First of all, please accept my apologies for the last three weeks with no new content. Life has a way of getting in the way of things and this time I certainly can’t complain. In the span of a week, I started a new (and much more enjoyable) position at work which has required a lot of travel, my wife and I got a dog, and we found out we are expecting our first child this coming March.
So I hope you can understand the lack of content as of late. That being said, I am going to discontinue the opponent preview series since at this point I would have to post a new one every day until the first game and I’d rather focus on Michigan-related content leading up to kickoff.
So let’s talk about a topic no one else in the world has covered: the impending announcement about the new Big Ten and what will happen to The Game. You know, the annual season-ending game between Michigan and Ohio State, not that it’s a big deal or anything.
My stance is much like the rest of the Michigan and Ohio State fan bases – that The Game should remain the last week of the regular season and that if two divisions are necessary, Michigan and Ohio State should be in the same division, though I would prefer no divisions.
There are times when changing to keep up with the times is a good thing but there are also times when respecting tradition is the way to go. In this case, tradition has to trump modernity.
The Game is what it is because it hasn’t become watered down and or turned into just another game. It’s arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports and no doubt the best rivalry in college football, but much of the mystique is cultivated from the entire season building up to that moment. The moment with the outright Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. The moment that can salvage an otherwise down season by playing spoiler and keeping the other from winning the Big Ten title and making the trip to Pasadena.
More times than not, something is on the line when the two teams meet in mid-November. Often, the game ends up serving as the Big Ten championship, and that’s the way it should be.
If The Game is moved to October, as has been rumored, the players, coaches, and fans will still be excited about the game, but the entire meaning of the game will be lost. It will become just another game, preceded by one opponent and succeeded by another. The Big Ten title won’t be on the line, nor will a trip to the Rose Bowl. Instead of being rewarded with a trip to Pasadena, the winner could get the “opportunity” to travel to Bloomington to face Indiana the following week. Woo hoo!
Imagine sitting in a movie theater watching the latest blockbuster thriller and midway through the movie finding out the outcome and then having to sit through the rest of the drama. Or reading a book and finding out the main character saves the world midway through, but then having to read the rest of the boring dialogue.
The proponents of changing The Game say it opens the door to the two teams meeting again in the new Big Ten championship game, which will be played at a neutral site, beginning next season in Indianapolis. Sure it could happen, but this is college football, folks, not the NFL. Teams should only meet once a year, whether it’s Michigan-Ohio State or Indiana-Purdue. You might as well have every team in the conference play twice during the regular season – once at home, once away – and then advance to a playoff to decide the Big Ten champion. Let’s just wipe away all remnants of tradition from The Game while we’re at it.
Even if Michigan and Ohio State did meet again in the Big Ten championship game (which, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, would have only happened three or four times in the past 17 seasons) it would water down the rivalry much like Duke-North Carolina in basketball. As stated earlier, the mystique of the rivalry comes from getting only one shot to beat your archrival.
New Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon doesn’t agree.
“One of the best things that could happen, in my opinion in a given season, would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice,” Brandon said.
Sure his credentials carry a lot more weight than mine, since he’s the current AD and played in the rivalry at Michigan under Bo Schembechler. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are any more right or that playing the same team twice in a season is necessarily a good thing.
What happens if Michigan wins the regular season matchup and finishes the Big Ten schedule 9-0, while Ohio State finishes the Big Ten schedule 8-1 and wins in the Big Ten championship meeting? Both teams could then have legitimate arguments for deserving the title with identical records and even head-to-head, yet Ohio State would be crowned Big Ten champions. Maybe Ohio State had one more loss during the regular season, but didn’t have to play a very strong Nebraska team that finished 8-1 in the same division as Michigan. Does that mean Ohio State is the deserving champion? Absolutely not.
In a perfect world, here’s how I think the Big Ten should be run once Nebraska is added in 2011:
First, don’t split into two divisions.* Keep the Big Ten a 12-team conference and institute an 11-game conference schedule with two non-conference games instead of four.
Non-conference games are fun when you have matchups like Michigan-Notre Dame or Ohio State-Miami, but do we really need each team to play three Mid-American Conference schools in one season? Let each Big Ten team play one cupcake to shake off the cobwebs and also one big non-conference game (like Michigan-Notre Dame), and then dive right into the conference schedule.
It would add one week to the regular season, which most likely will never happen since preserving academics is one of the arguments the NCAA has against a college football playoff, but having an 11-game conference schedule ensures that no team will have a competitive advantage because of an unbalanced schedule.
Currently, each Big Ten team gets to avoid two Big Ten opponents each year. Sometimes it works in Team A’s favor with both Michigan and Ohio State being left off the schedule, but Team B avoids Indiana and Illinois. Team A gets the advantage of having a chance to win the conference without even facing two of the best teams.
In 2002, Iowa and Ohio State shared the Big Ten title with 8-0 conference records, but they didn’t have to play each other during the season. Ohio State ended up winning the National Championship, but what if they had played Iowa during the conference slate and lost? Iowa may have gone to the title game.
Theoretically, that would be fixed with the Big Ten championship game, but with an unbalanced schedule, what if Iowa and Ohio State both finished 8-0, but Iowa didn’t have to play Nebraska, which finished 7-1, its only loss to Ohio State? Does Iowa absolutely deserve to play in the championship game? No, because they didn’t have to face Nebraska.
Or what if they were both in the same division, similar to what happens sometimes in the Big 12? The top two teams are often in the same division but can’t even meet in the championship game.
Secondly, the Big Ten should make the last week of the regular season rivalry weekend. Michigan-Ohio State, Penn State-Nebraska, Iowa-Wisconsin, Purdue-Indiana, Illinois-Northwestern, and Michigan State-Minnesota.
Michigan State and Minnesota may not be a rivalry, but the rest are and would make for a great finishing weekend and a de facto semi-final for the championship game.
It would keep the entire regular season interesting with the weight of the schedule at the end of the season when more is on the line. Of course there would be solid mid-season matchups like Michigan-Michigan State and Ohio State-Penn State, so the entire season leading up to the final weekend certainly wouldn’t be a letdown.
Some proponents of moving the game argue that other rivalries like Texas-Oklahoma or Florida-Florida State are played mid-season. And that’s one of the reasons they aren’t the greatest rivalry in college football. Too much is left to play for once the game has come and gone.
You need to go no further back than Oct. 11, 2008 when No. 5 Texas beat No. 1 Oklahoma 45-35 to advance to 6-0 (3-0 in the Big 12). Six weeks later, that matchup was all but forgotten when Oklahoma, which finished 7-1 in the conference, was sent to the Big 12 Championship game against 5-3 Missouri, leaving 7-1 Texas out of the picture.
That scenario was a result of the exact two things the Big Ten is on the verge of implementing: two divisions and having its cheif rivalry game between its two best teams played mid-season. If Texas-Oklahoma had been played in the final game, the winner would have gone to the championship game. Instead, even though they finished with identical records, the winner of the matchup didn’t even get a shot.
While that may be good for college football – for TV ratings, for controversy, for money – those aren’t the right reasons. Unfortunately, that’s the way the money-driven college football landscape is: a quick buck over decades of tradition.
In a perfect world, Michigan and Ohio State will always play in mid-November, when the air is chilled, snowflakes are falling, and Thanksgiving is looming. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been.
*Currently the NCAA requires two divisions in order to play a conference championship game, so for this to happen, the rules would have to be changed.