Dave Brandon realignment tradition OSU nostaligia good part
After much debate, hand-wringing, and a barrage of angry emails, we now know who, where, and when Michigan will be playing over (at least) the next two years. While popular sentiment among the Michigan (and OSU) fan-base indicated a strong (if not universal) desire to see the aforementioned rivals placed in the same division with their annual showdown preserved as the marquee/final game of the Big 10 regular season, it appears our athletic director wanted something different. In his comments before and after the decision to divide the Big 10 was announced, Dave Brandon repeatedly emphasized his desire to see Michigan and Ohio State eventually meet in a Big 10 Championship Game. I, for one, also find it much easier to believe that Brandon, a powerful former CEO with strong political aspirations who once burned a letter from Subway on national TV backing one of the biggest brands in all of sports, got exactly what he wanted, rather than to assume that the combined clout of Michigan and Ohio State was unable to influence this decision, especially when what they wanted (or at least should have wanted) appeared to be the most beneficial arrangement (or at least not a harmful one) for the conference as a whole.
At first glance, more Michigan-Ohio State, higher stakes Michigan-Ohio State, and ultra-hyped Michigan-Ohio State in super-primetime may seem like a good thing. Who doesn’t want more of a good thing? If one Game is good, two is better, right? Why not make the Game bigger and better and take it to a whole new level if we can? Sadly, however, this is the kind of juvenile, short-sighted enthusiasm that brought you Caddyshack II, four bajillion books/shows/movies of wildly varying quality about vampires, and the latest Van Halen album featuring their eleventieth lead singer.
In essence, a potential U-M/OSU rematch in the Big 10 Championship Game is a McRib. While potentially appealing at first glance, it is not a good thing.
It stands out, boldly, above all the bland items on the menu. The crisp, tangy pickles. The bigger than average bun. The slow-roasted pork goodness slathered in succulent BBQ sauce (What chance do the traditional ketchup and mustard we’ve enjoyed since the dawn of time have against such competition?), with just a few fresh-sliced onions for balance. Add in the limited availability, the once in a blue moon novelty, and every one of us has at some point succumbed to the temptation of the McRib.
Then reality sets in. The flimsy pickles have the consistency of used condoms. Most of the seats at the sterile, NFL domed stadium are occupied by corporate sponsors and disinterested local dignitaries, meaning that the fans will have access to roughly 1/10th of the tickets they would get in a traditional Michigan-OSU game. The barbecue sauce appears to just be ketchup with the subtle addition of more brown. See the Block M used to spellout “Michelin” or “Midas” or some other automotive giant. Watch as the guy who sold the most mufflers in Minneapolis gets to “dot the i.” Wait a minute, this bun was baked in 1974! Is that Joe Theismann down there in a bomber jacket, waiting to throw a football through a surreal-sized can of Mr. Pibb? You look at his face on the gargantuan jumbo-tron and wonder what has received more surgical treatment, the knee LT demolished or the frighteningly alert-looking face that is the same shade as the football in his hands. You examine the “pork patty” (there are no actual ribs involved in a McRib) and realize it is nothing more than a water-logged rectangle of pressed pork gristle, powerful preservatives, and what appear to just be big globs of fat seemingly injected in for the hell of it. And what about that prior meal (i.e. the annual regular season finale between Michigan and OSU)? It is rendered as insignificant as a single pickle that has escaped its bun, eaten as an unsatisfying appetizer. All that matters is the McRib (as your time on the toilet will soon illustrate).
Some say, who cares? “I never order the McRib, and besides, it is hardly ever even available.” I say, that is the genius of the McRib. It makes itself scarce, it disappears for a year or more at a time and when it returns we have all but forgotten what happened last time. We see the picture that so little resembles the product and we are again powerless to resist. Even if we regularly avoid the danger, the fact that it is even on the menu makes it certain that some day we will be stuck with the explosive diarrhea that is a meaningless regular season finale followed by an atrocious corporate-sponsored rematch.
In 2011, the Wolverines return a bevy of talented players on both sides of the ball. OSU, always formidable, will be led by a senior Terrelle Pryor. In short, we may very well end up eating our first McRib next December. When it makes us all sick, hopefully Dave Brandon (with his extensive experience in the food service industry) will see the error of his ways and keep this crap off the menu.
Jonathan Chait weighs in on the topic of the moment (Rivals, free):
So, MVictors has a good post about conference realignment and The Game: http://mvictors.com/?p=7960#idc-container
Craig Ross talks about the divisional title conditions as well. My 2 cents (AKA, everyone else is NUTs b/c the following is the most logical avenue of reasoning):
1) A simple question: Why is Michigan-Ohio St the greatest rivalry in sports? No really, think about specific reasons.....
OK, now is it really b/c it's played on Nov 22nd? Or in November? Or the end of the year? Can a date on the calendar define the importance of this game? Not really. The reason the Game is so big is simply b/c when the teams play, the BIG TEN TITLE always seems to be on the line. This is the crux of the rest of this post: Overwhelmingly often, the M-OSU winner definitively determined the BIG TEN CHAMPION. That is what made The Game, well.... THE GAME. Nothing more, nothing less. Not the weather or the date on calendar.
Based on the above, if both M and OSU were in the same division, THEY WOULD NEVER DEFINITIVELY PLAY FOR THE B10 TITLE. They would only play for the division. Hence, the game loses it's significance. The Game went from 'determining the B10 Champion' to 'determining the division winner.' By definition, this would be less important.
I therefore submit that, if you truly want to protect the importance of The Game, you MUST support M and OSU being placed in different divisions. Therefore, unlike the alternative, the opportunity to play for the B10 Title will still be available thus maintaining the sustainability of the importance of The Game. It will sustain it's own importance if it deserves to: if M and OSU are good enough to meet in the B10 title game on a regular basis. If they aren't good enough to do this, nothing can sustain The Game's importance.
Obvious point: We must play every year to avoid the Neb-OU situation of the recent past. Hence, the protected rivalry game.
Obvious point: playing a 2nd time in the Title game WOULD BE AWESOME!!!
Not-so-obvious point: Would it not benefit (from an on the field competitive viewpoint) both OSU and M to move The Game a week or two earlier to avoid having to play the 2 biggest games of the year in consecutive weeks? In addition, this may reduce the number of times when the divisions have already been determined prior to the last week of the season (thus diminishing the stake of The Game some years).
Finally, the MVictors post linked at the top discusses the inherent disadvantage M and OSU would have simply by virtue of having to play each other EVERY year in the cross divisional protected game. Craig Ross suggests a complicated point system to mitigate this disadvantage. I submit a simpler strategy for determining the divisional champions:
-- intra-divisional record determines the division champion.
-- overall B10 record is the 1st tiebreaker.
-- head to head in the 2nd tie breaker
moving head to head to the 1st tie breaker may be fine, but then makes overall record moot and essentially makes the cross divisional games worthless.
The End...... ?
Recent interviews with Dave Brandon and the OSU athletic director have strongly suggested that Michigan and OSU might meet earlier in the season instead of the traditional final season game. While nostalgic, traditional pundits have cried about the fall of Rome and begun wearing sackcloths, there some wisdom to be recognized here. Consider these reasons in favor of change:
1) The Michigan - OSU rivalry has thrived best when it represents a meeting of two competitive teams deciding the Big 10 championship. Lately Michigan has been in disarray with the loss of strong players, the controversy of Rich Rod and the Freep jihad/NCAA investigation. The Michigan - OSU game has been an anti-climatic end of the season, verging upon the one sided rivalry of the little brown jug game, which has seen Michigan usually beat Minnesota, even in 2008. During previous years with Bo and Lloyd Carr, Michigan and OSU have been the top two teams in the Big 10 and the final game has decided who goes to the Rose Bowl or BCS bowl. That is no longer true. As a result, the traditional rivalry has begun to stagnate and the game is not long THE GAME to watch.
If Michigan - OSU is played earlier in the season, but Michigan and OSU are the top two teams at the end of the season, they will still play in the Big 10 Championship at a neutral site, and the final game of the season will mean something again.
Allowing OSU to play someone else at the end of the regular season, allows them to play other strong big 10 teams like Nebraska or PSU, or perhaps even Notre Dame. Michigan can also play Nebraska or PSU. If they remain mediocre, perhaps they could play Minnesota or Purdue and win the last game, instead of suffering a beatdown from OSU.
2) Currently uncompetitive games with Michigan - OSU just cheapen the rivalry. We have seen special, kitsch OSU uniforms to worn at the game. How much longer before we seen QVC channel specials selling nostligic memorabilia from the Bo - Woody era, and derivative items The Michigan - OSU game has been most popular when it involves two equially competitive teams, and then draws natural popular attention
3) Relignment of Big 10 - Jim Delany may be following the example of the ACC in setting up two division that divide traditional rivals between two divisions. Then if the two teams are both winners of each division, they get an extra pop at the Big 10 championship game.
So the traditional rivals are:
Michigan - OSU
MSU - PSU
Indiana - Purdue
Illinois - Northwestern
Minnesota - Iowa
Wisconsin - Minnesota
and with the addition of Nebraska, instead of Nebraska - Iowa State,
there is geographic rivalry of Nebraska - Iowa or the big Red rivalry of
Nebraska - Wisconsin.
Putting opposing teams in separate divisions, while allowing one cross-division rivalry to be preserved makes sense. Some teams will continue to schedule the rivalries at the end of the year. However, OSU might prefer to play a higher ranked team like Nebraska or PSU, if Michigan remains in the doldrums. ABC/ ESPN and the Big 10 network will like that.
3) Under the new realignment, the twelve Big 10 teams could be divided into three Tiers.
Based on the last couple seasons -
Tier A - OSU, PSU, Nebraska, Iowa
Tier B - Wisconsin, MSU, Purdue, Northwestern
Tier C - Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota
Tier A teams have been competing in good post-season bowls, and often times in the Top 25 rankings.
Tier B teams have generally been had winning seasons, and played in some post-season bowls, but have not been in the Top 25.
Tier C teams don' t usually have winning seasons and don't usually play in post-season bowl games.
Michigan has ben in Tier C the last couple years, but hopefully will at least be in Tier B this year, if not Tier A, but expect to resume Tier A performance in 2-4 years either or Rich Rod or someone else (similar to Notre Dame with respect to Brian Kelly).
The Big 10 championship game will probably involve two Tier A teams, but if there are upsets, an underdog from Tier B might sneak in. The final game of the regular season has involved traditional rivals, but perhaps it is time to have equally competitive teams squaring off at the end of the year to make the game interesting and popular.
4) There are other big games for Michigan besides OSU. Of course, there is MSU, but the other top tiered teams like Iowa, PSU, and Nebraska will be equally competitive games, once Michigan rebuilds a competitive team. In the meantime, perhaps having Michigan play Minnesota or Purdue at the end of the year, if it allows them a game they can win. Fans are more happy and give more money, if they watch a game that MIchigan can win.
5) Beside Big 10 fans, a lot of east coast fans follow the Michigan-OSU rivalry. Wall street financial types could attend the Michigan-OSU game earlier in the season, and still go to Yale- Harvard or another east coast game like Army- Navy. That kind of scheduling might sell a few more elite suites at either Michigan or OSU stadiums.
6) Allowing Michigan - OSU game to be scheduled earlier will avoid the bitter late November weather, and allow the date to migrate to the weekend around Veterans' Day or Halloween, when people might have a free Monday to recovery from the weekend's debauchery and revelry.
7) It would give the Detroit Free Press a reason to start a new journalistic jihad against Dave Brandon, instead of Rich Rodriguez, or whoever the coach is. The Free Press seems to enjoy sensationalistic, bombastic journalism. I am sure Drew Sharp will have an op-ed piece proclaiming the end of the world, if the Michigan-OSU date is changed. But will it sell any newspapers. Other more level-headed people probably enjoy more quiet, commonsense journalism.
Or we could continue with the current Michigan - OSU game at the end of the season - where we have an anti-climatic, one-sided rivalry, which leaves everyone in SE Michigan nostalgic for a bygone era, or for smashmouth football, which is no longer competitive in post-season bowl games. Perhaps, we should give change a chance, and explore alternatives that might allow Michigan to play Nebraska or Iowa or PSU at the end of the year, which would still draw good ratings for ABC/ESPN, and make an interesting weekend in Ann Arbor!