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The Big Ten East's Complicated Tiebreaker Scenario, Explained

Which team will be representing the Big Ten East in this year's league title game? It's more complicated than you might think.

At present, there are three teams in the running to win the East division and represent it in the Big Ten title game. Michigan, at 6-0, is the leader of the pack, with both Ohio State and Penn State one game back at 5-1.

Of course, if Michigan wins out, the Wolverines will represent the East with a 9-0 record. But if they slip up, it gets really complicated. It also matters when they slip up.

First, let's take a look at the three games each team has left.

Michigan has a road game against Iowa, a home contest against Indiana and then an all-important date with Ohio State at the Horseshoe.

Penn State has road contests against Indiana and Rutgers before ending its season at home against Michigan State.

Ohio State has road dates with Maryland and Michigan State before hosting Michigan the final day of the season.

Okay, let's talk scenarios. Remember, Michigan has already beaten Penn State. And Penn State has already beaten Ohio State.

How Michigan wins the East:

  1. Michigan wins its last three games, finishing 9-0.
  2. Michigan loses to either Iowa or Indiana but then beats Ohio State, finishing 8-1.
  3. Michigan loses one game to finish 8-1 but both Ohio State and Penn State also lose one more game.

How Ohio State wins the East:

  1. Ohio State wins its last three games AND either Michigan finishes 8-1 or Penn State finishes 7-2 or worse.

How Penn State wins the East:

  1. Penn State wins its final three games AND Michigan loses twice.

For those keeping score, yes, that means it's in the best interest of Ohio State fans to root for Michigan until they meet.

Why? Basically, the Big Ten has six steps to determining how to break a three-way tie. Here they are:

The following procedure will determine the representative from each division in the event of a tie:

(a) If two teams are tied, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative. (b) If three or more teams are tied, steps 1 through 6 will be followed until a determination is made. If only two teams remain tied after any step, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.

1. The records of the three tied teams will be compared against each other.

2. The records of the three tied teams will be compared within their division.

3. The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5, 6, and 7).

4. The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.

5. The team with the best overall winning percentage [excluding exempted games] shall be the representative.

6. The representative will be chosen by random draw.

So if at the end of season, we have three teams tied with 8-1 records, the tiebreaker goes all the way down to No. 5. This assumes, of course, that Michigan beats Indiana and Iowa, but loses to Ohio State. It also assumes that both the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions win out. In that scenario, Ohio State would win the division. Penn State, at 10-2 (because of a loss to Pitt) would be out. And it's implied that the Buckeyes would get in over the Wolverines via the head-to-head.

Yes, it's complicated - and only Michigan truly controls its own destiny. But all three squads have to be feeling pretty decent about their chances.