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?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."
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.
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?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.
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.
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.THE GREAT SATAN AT THE END OF IT. You can't move that to October.
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 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.”
“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.