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!