Every Year. Same Time. Once. The Last Time.
I'm not posting this in the hope that it will change anything. Since Dave Brandon came out in favor of moving the Michigan-Ohio State game to midseason there's been tremendous fan pushback, with opinion running about 10-to-1 against. It obviously doesn't matter, because the men in suits are ramping up the meaningless PR doublespeak to alarming levels:
…the reason the Big Ten is great is because of our fans. We had five and a half million fans come to games [in 2009]. Whether it’s the Rose Bowl or Ohio State-Michigan, we welcome that, and there’s an awful lot of discussion of, generally speaking, how our fans feel about what we do. We're not fan-insensitive, we're fan-receptive and are only interested in doing what is going to grow our fan base.
Whenever someone starts talking about how great the fans are, the fans are about to get it in uncomfortable places, especially when that's the first thing they talk about in the face of obvious, massive opposition. Meanwhile, the SID is trying to calm people over email by saying for Michigan and Ohio State to meet for the conference title they will "have to play their way into the championship game." If it was a trial balloon people would be walking it back by now after the reaction it's received. The thing is far enough along that Barry Alvarez is flat-out stating that Iowa and Wisconsin will be split up. It's actually happening.
So this doesn't matter. But here's why Michigan and Ohio State's athletic directors should be out in the streets rounding up pitchfork-toting mobs instead of rolling over like Indiana:
The financial benefits are almost literally zero. Dan Wetzel cites a TV executive claiming that at maximum, the vague possibility of Michigan and Ohio State meeting in a Big Ten championship game once a decade might be worth two million dollars a year ("it might be half that," he adds). Even taking the most optimistic number, the end result for Michigan is another 150k per year (the conference takes a share). Assuming an average of seven home games a year, Michigan could earn that by raising ticket prices twenty cents. Meanwhile, every other Big Ten team sees the same increase in their bottom line.
Michigan and Ohio State will almost never meet. The Plain Dealer looked back at the league since Penn State's addition and concluded that in the last sixteen years, a Michigan-Ohio State championship game would have happened all of three times.
In the future you can expect that to be far less frequent. Michigan will be guaranteed that 1) they play an outstanding Ohio State team and 2) three of the other five teams in their division do not. If the matchup is going to occur it's going to be the same for Ohio State. The loser of that game is going to have to overcome that deficit against teams that have a much easier schedule. The addition of Nebraska adds another historic power to the league. "Once a decade" is not hyperbole. It's a reasonable estimate.
As a result, you are turning M-OSU from something that will always have stakes to something you hope to do over. This is Delany's reasoning:
"If Duke and North Carolina were historically the two strongest programs and only one could play for the right to be in the NCAA tournament, would you want them playing in the season-ending game so one is in and one is out?" he asked. "Or would you want them to play and have it count in the standings and then they possibly could meet for the right to be in the NCAA or the Rose Bowl?
"We've had those debates. It's a good one. The question is whether you want to confine a game that's one of the greatest rivalries of all time to a divisional game."
Yes. Because the loser of that game is doomed and knows it. Moving it to midseason just makes it a particularly high hurdle that might not mean much—that the conference explicitly hopes doesn't mean much—at the end of the year, when the two teams can do it again, except indoors in Indianapolis. Doctor Saturday:
Keep the game what it's always been, the ritualistic culmination of an entire season in a single, freezing orgy of centuries-old hate that cannot be overturned or redeemed for at least another 365 days. In good years, the division championship (hence a shot at the conference championship) will be on the line, preserving the familiar winner-take-all/loser-go-home intensity that made "The Game" what it is in the first place.
You are doing something your fans hate. The kids don't get paid, the stadium doesn't have advertising, the idea that there is a Michigan Thing that it is possible not to "get" in a way that it is not possible Jim Schwartz does not "get" the Lions Thing: these are the things that separate college football from minor league baseball. 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. It's not Miami-Florida State, a game entirely dependent on the teams being national contenders for it to even sell out, but the Big Ten is treating it like the country's fakest rivalry game anyway.
It so happens that a lot of the time OSU and Michigan do decide the Big Ten, but did anyone want to beat OSU less in the mid-90s when Michigan limped into the game with 3 or 4 losses every year? Or last year? No. Would it matter less as an October game to be followed by three or four more? Necessarily yes. Is that the worst thing in the world? Yes.
I have no tolerance for anyone too dense to grasp this, much less see it as a potentially good thing, as Dave at Maize N Brew does. I said his post on the matter was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen a Michigan fan write and it remains so. Orson's post on the matter is also the dumbest thing I've ever seen him write. The reason college football matters in a way the NFL does not is the idea it has that some things are not worth selling. Once the date of the Michigan-Ohio State game goes the only thing left is the labor of the players.
I'll still be there. I don't have a choice, really, but the special kind of misery I'll experience when Michigan plays Ohio State at 8 PM in October and Special K blasts "Lose Yourself" during a critical review will make me feel like an exploited sap, not a member of a community in which my opinions matter. They clearly don't. This will matter in the same way erosion does.
AND NOW: A BUNCH OF UNAFFILIATED FOLK SHARE THEIR OPINIONS
Speaking as an Auburn fan on Big 10 moving M/OSU to midseason: If they'd tried that w/ the Iron Bowl I'd have burned SEC HQ to the ground
Because I have a soul, I've already firmly aligned myself with the "armageddon" crowd, made up of those of us who can't stand the thought of one side telling the other in mid-October, "We'll see you again when it really matters." Which probably means I've aligned myself with the losing side. Whatever the motivations of its less influential champions, the prospect of a Buckeye-Wolverine split only has traction among people who matter because the people who matter see a buck in it: If one Ohio State-Michigan game is good, two Ohio State-Michigan games must be even better, and I'm sure they have the ratings projections and accompanying ad rates to prove it. The rivalry has already defined and shaped the national perception of the Big Ten for the last 50 years; just think of the possibility of the rivalry-as-championship game as "expanding the brand."
Saving this game at the end is the culmination of a season-long crescendo.
Michigan-Indiana at the end of the year, for example, doesn’t offer the same cachet.
And it never will.
Are you kidding me? It's been played the last week of the season all but once since 1935, and it's the league's single most important franchise. You would think conference leaders would go to any length to protect it. …
Sometimes leaders make decisions without properly thinking through the issues. This one sounds like a case of over-thinking. Do the right thing, Mr. Delany, Mr. Brandon and Mr. Smith, lest the ghosts of Woody and Bo haunt you in your sleep.
Be warned, Big Ten: you move The Game, you will rip the heart and suck the soul out of the single greatest property the conference owns. And for what, a few more advertising dollars every few years when they do happen to stumble into a title showdown? One that will, incidentally, likely be contested in a sterile, domed, neutral location as opposed to yet another reason that The Game is what it is -- The Big House and The Shoe.
So… yeah. Join the Facebook page. Maybe it will help. It won't, actually, but maybe you'll feel better about it.