Regarding the Pending Travesty (Moving Ohio State-Michigan)

I generally don’t write about yet-to-be-confirmed issues, but the item of the day has me so disturbed I can’t help myself, and there is too much smoke around this one for me to hold out any hope I and many other media folk have jumped to the wrong conclusion.

The Ohio State-Michigan football rivalry is going to change forever and for the worse. The Buckeyes and Wolverines will still play every year, but The Game will be in the middle of the season, thus fundamentally different from the type of contest the unfriendly neighbors have staged for the last 75 years since it was moved to the last game of the season.

During that period of time, they have played 22 de facto championship games in which the winner took the crown. Forty-six times, The Game has been played with significant title implications. 

It might still be a factor in the conference race, but by the time you know for sure you’ll have already forgotten because it was six weeks earlier. Thus, you won’t care.

Why am I convinced this is happening?

Here’s the deal: Earlier this month, Jim Tressel and Rich Rodriguez both primed the pump for moving the Ohio State-Michigan game away from the end of the season when both said things to justify such an action. What Rodriguez really thinks is anyone’s guess because he’s sounded pretty clueless when talking about the rivalry in the past, but Tressel could not possibly feel that way based on the way he has always described his feeling on The Game, so I have little doubt he was merely being a good soldier, putting a smiley face on a bad situation because that’s what he does when he doesn’t care for how the truth sounds.

Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith fanned the flames earlier this week when reportedly he acknowledged it was a possibility (link also contains quotes from Tressel and Rodriguez) the teams could be in different divisions and play earlier in the year. Smith’s counterpart at Michigan, David Brandon, told an Ann Arbor radio station Friday morning “one of the best things that could happen in a given season would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice,” adding that he would not put the ancient rivals in the same division if it were up to him.

(Here’s a nice summation of things from MGoBlog http://mgoblog.com/content/different-kind-football-armageddon)

Meanwhile, Jim Delany has been saying geography is not necessarily a big deal in terms of determining how to split the conference into two divisions.

So what’s going to happen – unless all of those people mentioned above like to justify things that don’t need justifyin’ – is The Game will be allowed to blend in with all the others in the blur of a season rather than serve as a fitting capstone.

No more conquering the hated enemies to earn a crown. No more chance to play spoiler. No more finality. Just another regular season game to prepare for when what’s supposed to be the biggest day of the year has passed.

And that’s a damn shame.

I had already begun to resign myself to an adjustment of the stakes if the teams were playing for a division title and the right to advance to a championship game, but this is far less appetizing.

If OSU-Michigan can’t specifically be for the championship every year, I’d much rather see it be a play-in game than just another random midseason tilt. At least that preserves some semblance of the yearly stakes as they are created organically by the results of the rest of the season.

The most two 5-0 teams can ever play for is becoming 6-0. The disparity between that and capping a perfect regular season can hardly be compared. Lots of teams go 6-0. Few go 12-0.

And what if both teams do make it through to the championship game? Then they will get to play for all the marbles again. Except of course there’s no guarantee that will happen often, and when it does, the first matchup all of a sudden becomes meaningless, just a smudge on the windshield or a random notch in the belt.

Going through the whole rigamarole of Beat Michigan week twice in one year just won’t have the same feel, and the integrity of bragging rights is thrown all out of whack if you play twice with variable stakes.

I guess no one in the conference offices in Chicago – or apparently Columbus and Ann Arbor, for that matter – cares much about that.

And that’s why the Big Ten has, in all likelihood, decided to fundamentally alter the way people who care about the rivalry approach and ultimately appreciate it in order to possibly sometimes maybe create a game with more name recognition to sell to everyone else who is otherwise not affected and would probably watch that network that day anyway regardless of the matchup (especially if the ACC championship game is the only alternative).

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