Traditionally when people think of football power conferences we think of the Big 12 and the Big Ten, in the past ten or so seasons that's obviously changed with the focus squarely on the Southeastern Conference. The SEC having won eight of 15 BCS titles, don't forget Tennessee won the first one (Rocky Top!), is are clearly the best conference over the past decade, even if the conference is very top heavy. The Big Ten on the other hand has largely been a disappointment over the same period save a few spots with Ohio State and Michigan.
When it comes to basketball though the two conferences couldn't be more opposite. This year, the SEC was only able to get three teams into the tournament, and only Ole Miss (!!!) is representing the SEC in the Sweet 16. The Big Ten had seven teams selected and has Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State playing in the round of 16. Compare that to football where the Big Ten had no teams in the top ten of the final BCS standings and the SEC had six in those same standings.
As good as the Big Ten is in basketball it could not be any worse in football. In a hypothetical world with Penn State and Ohio State being eligible last year one can assume that at least Ohio State would have been in the National Championship conversation and Penn State likely plays in the Rose Bowl. Outside of those two teams, was any other team worthy of being on the same practice field as the top six SEC teams? Didn't think so, but that's alright because even though the Big Ten was able to get seven of its teams in the men's tournament I'm confident any Big Ten team could beat any SEC team in basketball.
Are you able to say the same thing about the Big Ten football schools versus SEC football school? No, and if you try and tell me any Big Ten team can beat any SEC team you should be drug tested, twice.
This isn't an indictment on the Big Ten as a whole, but consider that a conference that was once great at football is now great at basketball and average at football. Things change, and so will the Big Ten, and in a few years it will probably be good again in football.
This past season the Big Ten was atrocious in football because half of the conference had new head coaches, half had new offensive coordinators and half had new defensive coordinators. The Big Ten can go a long way to improving its football credibility by stabilizing the conference in hiring better coaches and recruiting better.
These are known facts, but the conference also needs to schedule better, something that I've written about before. As bad as the conference is, its intra-conference play isn't actually the worst on the planet, but its non-conference schedule is embarrassing. Ohio State has taken the lead by scheduling tougher opponents, but the conference as a whole needs to step its game up.
In basketball, the conference faces some of the best opponents across Division I, and it shows. Big Ten teams' RPIs are consistently higher year after year. The conferences biggest basketball spending school, Michigan State, is also its most successful and most profitable and that's because the school has made a commitment to Tom Izzo the same way Alabama has made a commitment to Nick Saban, the same way it appears Ohio State will commit to Urban Meyer.
All are important, but the most important is that nationally the Big Ten has become a much better basketball conference than football conference. That isn't a bad thing, and it isn't what Big Then traditionalists want, but no one in the ACC complains about how they're more known for basketball over football.
This weekend the Big Ten has a chance to fill each of the Final Four spots with each of its teams. Anything less than two teams in the Final Four is an abject failure for this conference that is college basketball's version of the SEC.