Like the rest of the Big Ten Conference, there's change for Illinois football, but traditions and even some basic geography were retained for the Illini as the league announced divisional alignment Wednesday.

Like the rest of the Big Ten Conference, there's change for Illinois football, but traditions and even some basic geography were retained for the Illini as the league announced divisional alignment Wednesday.

The Big Ten placed Illinois in a division with heavyweights Ohio State and Penn State, plus border rivals Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana. Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern and Minnesota went in the other division.

The Illinois-Northwestern in-state rivalry also survived as one of six guaranteed cross-division matchups, and the Illini kept all three trophy games.

"We were one of the institutions flipped around,'' Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther said. "We're in a good place geographically. I like our division. The other division is also equal.

"You look at the powerful schools. They had to be split. Ohio State or Penn State, Michigan or Nebraska. Then you have Wisconsin, which has been traditionally strong and Iowa on a roll. Then you have the rest of us that competed somewhat inconsistently.''

Illinois kept its three trophy games, with the Illibuck with Ohio State, the Cannon with Purdue and the Land of Lincoln Trophy with Northwestern. Illinois made it a priority to protect the rivalry with Northwestern.

The divisions go into effect for the 2011 season, when the champion of each division will meet Dec. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in the Big Ten championship game. Names of the divisions and a new conference logo will be unveiled later this fall.

The division champion will be determined by all games played, not just those played within a division, commissioner Jim Delany said. In determining the groups, the Big Ten used the priority of competitive balance, then retaining rivalry games. Geography was a distant third.

Each team plays the other five teams in its division each season plus the one protected rivalry from the other division, then also plays two games among the remaining five teams in the other group on a rotating basis.

"The Big Ten is a great conference now,'' Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "When you add a great program, it makes it that much better. Over time, everyone plays everyone.''

The divisions and championship game became a reality after the Big Ten expanded to 12 teams in the summer by adding football powerhouse Nebraska. In Big Ten schedules released for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Illinois doesn't play Nebraska.

The Big Ten left the possibility open for a nine-game conference season in 2015, which would allow for more rivalry games and quicker rotation through the other division.

The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is one of the five other guaranteed crossover games and will remain on the last weekend of the regular season, where it has been played every year since 1943. Indiana-Michigan State, Penn State-Nebraska, Purdue-Iowa and Wisconsin-Minnesota were also guaranteed for every season.

By ignoring geography, the Big Ten concentrated on competitive balance between the two divisions. The league's four marquee names -- Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska -- were split evenly. Then Wisconsin and Iowa were split to also retain competitive balance, Delany said. The league used data back to 1993, when Penn State was added to the Big Ten.

The divisions are football-only, Delany said, and he doesn't see a need for divisions in basketball.

"It's such a different sport with multiple teams going to the NCAA tournament and all comers going to postseason tournament,'' Delany said. "From my perspective having been on the basketball committee, having played the game and looking at other conferences, I don't see a compelling reason for divisions (in basketball).''

Delany could change his mind if there's a strong opinion for divisions by basketball coaches and athletic directors. If so, the league would cut teams into different divisions for basketball.

With the basketball tournaments (men's and women's) up for bid in 2011, Delany said, there's the possibility the conference may choose to bundle all three events into one sales pitch. Indianapolis also currently hosts the basketball tournaments.

Delany and the conference were too busy to consider other football championship game sites, but he did leave open the possibility of playing the championship football game outdoors.

"We play football outdoors for much of November,'' Delany said. "We're going indoors for the first year. We're not closing the door on the outdoors.''

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.

Illinois schedules
2011
Sept. 3 -- ARKANSAS STATE
Sept. 10 -- SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
Sept. 17 -- ARIZONA STATE
Sept. 24 -- WESTERN MICHIGAN
Oct. 1 -- NORTHWESTERN
Oct. 8 -- at Indiana
Oct. 15 -- OHIO STATE
Oct. 22 -- at Purdue
Oct. 29 -- at Penn State
Nov. 5 -- open
Nov. 12 -- MICHIGAN
Nov. 19 -- WISCONSIN
Nov. 26 -- at Minnesota

2012
(Big Ten only)
Sept. 29 -- PENN STATE
Oct. 6 -- at Wisconsin
Oct. 13 -- at Michigan
Oct. 20 -- open
Oct. 27 -- INDIANA
Nov. 3 -- at Ohio State
Nov. 10 -- MINNESOTA
Nov. 17 -- PURDUE
Nov. 24 -- at Northwestern