Grand Cards: It Angrys Up The Blood

Friday, August 27, 2010

It Angrys Up The Blood

In which I depart from the normal discourse on this site, and eschew the continuing work responsibilities that have mounted all week, to talk about the most significant issue that we, as a people, currently face

The Degree to Which This Is Happening

There is a very real chance that Michigan and Ohio State, upon pending Big Ten division creation, will no longer play to end the season. How real? Real.

...the timing of some rivalry games might change, and that could include Ohio State-Michigan. "I don't know where we're going to end up," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said.

That's from the Columbus Dispatch last week (HT Dr. Saturday. This sentiment was later seconded, and expanded upon, by still wet behind the ears Michigan AD David Brandon in a radio interview last week on WTKA:
SAM WEBB: If you are making the decision, are Michigan and Ohio State in the same division?
[Long Pause]
DAVID BRANDON: …No.
SAM WEBB: And why?
DAVID BRANDON: Because we're in a situation where one of the best things that could happen … would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice.
This, edited to remove editorial commentary, set of quotes is from the veritable MGoBlog, in a post citing this issue as a "football armageddon." And he's not wrong. These two quotes helped set off an unprecedented fan and media firestorm that has, somehow, managed to perfectly align Michigan and Ohio State fans towards a common goal. Preserving "The Game."

Yet somehow, from somewhere, a "stay the course" company line has pervaded the Big Ten. The U-M and OSU AD's haven't really backed down. A couple of media folks have said that its a good idea. Even some fans have said, yeah, this could work.

The Degree To Which It Won't Work

The problem is, they're wrong. Visions of 2006--when Michigan and OSU were #1 and #2 heading into their end of the season matchup--are clouding their judgment. If ONE rivalry game is good, the TWO will be an unstoppable force of fantasticness. You know how conversations like this go:
Dude 1: Dude, How awesome is the Michigan-Ohio State game?
Dude 2: Dude, I know. But dude, check this out. If the Big Ten goes to divisions, they can play that game twice!
Dude 1: Dude! Once during the season and once for the Championship!
Dude 2: Dude.
The problem is that this conversation was had by the powers that be within the Big Ten Conference, and not a couple of wasted fratboys waiting in the beer pong line at a house party.

And to their credit, the intuition is there. Having Michigan and Ohio State play for the Championship every year would be awesome, except for three things.

1. It would barely ever happen
I won't beat a dead horse on this, but according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer if realignment had taken place in 1993, Michigan and Ohio State would have met for the Big Ten Championship three, maybe four times. Four times in 16 seasons. 25% of the time.

2. And when it did happen, it would suck
Not suck, per se, as the game would be outstanding, but suck in the way that playing the nation's greatest rivalry game inside of the corporate behemoth of Lucas Oil Field, where there are no home fans, no traditions, no cold weather and literally nothing that resembles anything that is great about real college football, with the exception of the teams on the field. Is that fine for a Championship Game? Sure. Is it a substitute for the Michigan-Ohio State game? No.

3. It castrates the regular game.
Provided the game is moved away from its end-of-the-season slot, it would be a disaster. So the teams would have met in the Big Ten Championship 4 times in the last 16 years? Not the point. However, the Big Ten title has been on the line for one of the two teams for--wait for it--FIFTEEN TIMES. That's Fifteen Times where the winner of the game either wins the Big Ten Championship or prevents the opponent from doing so. In sixteen years.

And if you move the game to October? Zero times. The in-season game loses all importance, and the significance of the rivalry falls in line with Michigan State, or Notre Dame, or Penn State, if you're so inclined--good games all, plenty of bad blood, but not the same. Not even close.

The Degree To Which This is Crazy

Now that I live in Maryland, or on the east coast, discussing the horror that is this possibility is lost on most people, which is what originally inspired me to broach this topic and put it in terms that you non-college football fans might understand:

This is putting the Yankees in the AL and the Red Sox in the NL, and guaranteeing that they will play in Interleague Play every year, in the hopes that they will play in the World Series.

And it is insane. Is that not insane? How is that not insane? It is insane.

For NFL fans, it is like putting the Cowboys and Redskins in separate divisions and then telling them that they still have a rivalry when they play once a year with NOTHING ON THE LINE. You know, the Tigers used to be in the AL East and had really excellent rivalries with the Blue Jays and the Yankees. Those disappeared with divisional realignment. Hey Hockey Fans, how's that Red Wings-Canadiens Rivalry? Yeah, pretty much dead.

I'll take this chance to quote the most appropriate line on this issue that I've read, from AN ABSOLUTELY MUST READ MGOBLOG POST THAT WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO DIE WHEN YOU REALIZE HOW STUPID CHANGING THE GAME IS
I have no tolerance for anyone too dense to grasp this, much less see it as a potentially good thing...
The value of the Michigan-Ohio State game lies in the perfect storm of a) long-held, deep seeded rivalry, b)annual championship implications (usually) and c) it's end of season location, wherein b) and c) are inextricably intertwined and a) and c) are inextricably intertwined, leaving c) the lynchpin. MGoBlog again:
For decades Michigan's season has had a certain shape defined by the great Satan at the end of it.

This is where the disconnect between the suits and the fans is greatest. Beating Ohio State isn't about winning the Big Ten, it's about beating Ohio State, just like the Egg Bowl is about beating that other team in Mississippi or the Civil War is about beating that other team in Oregon or any billion other year-end rivalry games that have been played since the Great Depression. M-OSU is the super-sized version of the old-fashioned rivalries based on pure hate.
THE GREAT SATAN AT THE END OF IT. You can't move that to October.

The Degree To Which Advocates For Change Are Right, But Not Really

There is one point that those that think moving The Game and splitting Michigan and Ohio State into separate divisions have right: If they are in the same division, U-M and OSU will no longer play for the Big Ten Championship. Ever. 15 times in 16 years drops to Zero for infinity. And for some, that's a big problem, but I think that it is necessary to look at the counterpoints:

Option #1: U-M/OSU in separate divisions w/ October Rivalry game:
Result: October game has zero title/championship implications, ever, teams could theoretically rematch in the Championship, which might happen once or twice a decade.

Option #2: U-M/OSU in separate divisions w/ End of Year Game:
Result: End-of-season game may or may not have divisional championship implications, one or both teams (or neither) could end up in the Championship game.

Option #3: U-M/OSU in same divison, w/ End of Year Game:
Result: End-of-season game has a high probability of having divisional championship implications every year. No Championship rematch.

#1 is horrible, and where things are trending. #2 is palatable, although the real payoff is in the infrequent championship game. #3 is where its at. Divisional rivals are bitter. Look at baseball. Or the NFL. Those rivalries matter because the playoffs are at stake. It would be the same way in the Big Ten. After the game, one team goes to the championship and one team's season is over--and it would happen with relatively frequency compared with the other options. Split up the divisions and that finality--that satisfying feeling of being able to END your opponents chance at a championship--goes away. Or is, at least, greatly reduced.

The Degree To Which There Is Hope

A Plain Dealer article this morning allowed me to exhale, shallowly and briefly:
Neither Gee nor Smith said they were surprised by the passionate response from fans, though the importance of that game in that spot on the calendar was always an important topic.

“I always knew it was an issue,” Smith said. “I've always had my reasons, but I'm getting additional reasons. . . . Honestly, there are people who are emotional and you know, they're not giving me anything different. They're telling me what I already know. I really appreciate the information from the people who are obviously being thoughtful and are giving me good information. . . . I've gotten models, I've gotten historical data, I've gotten a lot of stuff that makes sense.”

--snip--

“I think in the division or out of the division, you could play the last game,” [OSU AD] Smith said. “There are obviously warts with both of those. But there's no doubt you could do it both ways.”

Ohio State may be coming around. 90% of the emails they've gotten have been against the proposed change. There is a chance that they will start to throw some weight around. Michigan needs to start doing the same. Hell, even uber-Michigan villain Mike Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press says what we all know to be true:
This game has always been about anticipation, about bragging rights and about a once-a-year referendum on the programs. Sure, sometimes The Game is a one-day playoff for the Big Ten championship. But more often, it means so much because one team had a chance to ruin the other's season at the end -- and salvage its own. That can't happen in a title game, and it can't happen in October, not in the same way.

So hey, join the facebook group or write a letter to Michigan's President and AD. Do the same for Ohio State. Hell, there's a freaking list of everyone who just shelled out tens of thousands of dollars for new suites at Michigan Stadium--you think that they're happy about this? Get in touch with someone over there.

Stop the insanity. Keep the game where it is.

5 comments:

  1. I agree, keep the teams in the same division and the game at the end of the season. Heck, how many times in the 90s did Michigan beat tOSU to ruin their shot at the National Title? Nuf said.

    One can look to three other examples of how an expanded conference treated existing rivalries.

    1. When the SEC expanded Alabama and Tennessee went to great lengths to not only preserve their rivalry, but the make sure that it was played on the same weekend in October that it always was.

    2/3. When the Big 12 came into being they had to decide what to do with Oklahoma's two rivalries with Texas and Nebraska. The Texas game was always during the Texas state fair and the Nebraska was at the end of the season. Officials decided to put OU and UT in the same division and, IMO, the game is bigger now than it ever has been because it is a divisional game and not a conference game. They split OU and Nebraska up and started playing the game earlier. This caused the game to lose importance and the rivalry has faded.

    I like your Red Sox/Yankees example. But with the expanded playoffs that rivalry got ratched up a notch.

    Rivalries are a big part of college football and the good ones have taken years to develop.

    I hope the powers that be understand the importance of protecting these traditions and not turn the Big 10 into a collegant NFL where the intense rivalries are just another ho-hum game of importance to only the respective fanbases (Raiders/Chiefs, Cowboys/Redskins, Packers/Bears). At one time these teams hated each other with a passion but with expansion, added divisions, etc. the importance of the games were lessened. If beating your rival meant keeping them from the playoffs then it was sweeter, but when both teams can make the playoffs and meet again the importance is lessened.

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  2. If the NCAA and the conferences thought it would make them more money, they would replace the football players with ballerinas dancing their way into the endzone to a Justin Bieber song.

    The fans have never been, nor will ever be a factor in any of these decisions. They will make the decision according to what they think - and what television tells them - will make them more money. Then one day the bubble will pop, the fans will die heartbroken, the next generation of fans will be fans of something else due to greed and incompetence and the Bigwigs will be wondering what the hell happened to that endless flow of money which they believed was their birthright. And the circle begins anew. Selah.

    As a Georgia fan who was lucky enough to see their three main rival games (Florida, Auburn and Ge. Tech) remain intact after the devisionizing of the SEC, I'm pulling for snity in this case. Good luck, sir.

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  3. @dayf. You're exactly right about how the business works. The problem is, I think they've got the economics wrong. You actually diminish the guaranteed revenue of the regular season game for a lottery ticket shot at the big game. Also, law of diminishing returns you know--that second game will be worth a lot just because it is a champ. game. The effect of adding M/OSU is a marginal bump. What's more, I think the Universities would not be ok with this, from a Ticket sales (see: suite sales) perspective. Having that guaranteed end-of-season game is a big deal.

    If the economics made sense--really made sense, than at least I wouldn't feel so horrible about it. I understand money grabs. Dislike them, but understand. But this is a money grab, and it is ill-conceived and short-sighted. I have no tolerance for that.

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  4. THE GAME should continue to be played @ the end of the regular season, period, if the two teams played in the same division, or not.

    The Big Ten speaks about tradition all the time, and now it's time for them to keep the #1 tradition in the conference.

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  5. Great post. I agree 100%!

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