Is whoever in charge of the Big Ten Network biased about which “Greatest Games” make the cutting room floor? Whether they know it or not, is there some internal bias towards Ohio State, Michigan State, or, say it isn’t so, Northwestern?
When ESPN Classic once constantly ran classic college football game programming, I had friends who would immediately complain that that the producers were biased and the channel was run by [insert rival school here] alums, because they "always show Michigan losing."
I was not convinced, as obviously one comment on one statistical data point (one game) is hardly convincing proof. However, I was always curious to somehow see if there was some bias in these programming decisions, and the BTN has given us a great opportunity to do so by listing every game which they label “Big Ten’s Greatest Games.”
[Obvious side note for people not paying attention: the Big Ten Network is biased towards the Big Ten, so clearly they only show games where a Big Ten team won OOC. I wanted to see if there was any suggestion of bias towards any specific conference teams].
I was curious, and deciphered the records of every Big Ten team in the classics upcoming in season 3. As Brian notes at the top, Michigan goes 5-4 in this season’s slate of classics, with 3 of those wins coming in out of conference (OOC) games.
After seeing some anomalies, I decided to look at all three seasons the BTN has aired this show. This provided 83 data points. Of these 83 games, 25 contests were Big Ten victories in OOC games or Bowl Games.
I give you the data first to see for yourself:
|Team||Overall Record||OOC W||Big Ten Record|
What jumps out: Penn State
The shocking statistic of the day is Penn State's record. They are 11-2. Compare that to the records hovering at 0.500 for OSU and Michigan. Penn State also has 4 games selected as some of the Big Ten’s Greatest Games when they were not in the conference - '83 Sugar, '84 vs BC, '85 vs Alabama, '89 Holiday Bowl.
Also, which their two losses in great games? Iowa in 2002 and Minnesota in 1999. Apparently they have never lost any close games to the two Big Ten powerhouses...
Notable games missing:
¨ 1999 - Michigan 31, PSU 27 - Tom Brady’s 10 point comeback road victory
¨ 2002 - Michigan 27, PSU 24 - First OT game in Michigan Stadium history
¨ 2005 - Michigan 27, PSU 25 - No description necessary
¨ 2003 - Ohio State 21, PSU 20
¨ 2002 - Ohio State 13, PSU 7
Do I believe that every one of these games should have been on the list? No. But none of them? Maybe the producers are saving the top flight great games for the headline games for the upcoming BTN seasons? Quite possibly.
Other interesting stats:
¨ Most selected - Michigan, with 25 games deemed “Greatest”
¨ Participation Ribbon - Indiana, with only 6 games
¨ Best winning percentage - Penn State, 0.846
¨ Best in-conference winning percentage – Indiana, 0.833
¨ Michigan is 2-3 vs Ohio State
¨ Michigan is 3-3 vs Michigan State, however that includes losses in 1990 and 2001, which, well, are obviously very controversial losses for Michigan
¨ Indiana, though selected the fewest, was 5-1 in their 6 games in conference
The other interesting numbers were Indiana and Northwestern, going 5-1 and 7-2, respectively. Their numbers were also not bolstered by any OOC victories. However, these sparkling records without OOC help for IU and NW could simply be the facts that:
a) They do not schedule marquee OOC teams to have an opportunity for good wins, and
b) They do not go to marquee bowl games and usually do not have the talent to win when they do make it to the interesting ones
c) Many of their wins against the traditional Big Ten powers are fascinating because they are simply expected, whether appropriate or not, to be the underdog
Conclusion? At the end of the day, I do not actually think this means anything, but it was certainly interesting. The Penn State anomaly is fascinating. Is the producer of the show a Penn State alum subconsciously, or just conveniently, forgetting about a 12 year stretch of failure against Michigan? Or are the producers just trying to push the bounds of the Big Ten Network further onto the east coast market, into New York and Washington DC, by pushing Penn State?
I do not know. It does show there is not an overwhelming bias against Michigan, if anything a slight lean for Michigan. If there is a BTN bias, I am glad it is not yet leaning towards Ohio State or Michigan State. Maybe it’s a testament to Michigan's prestige to have the most games coined “Greatest” so far, as it’s always a great game for someone else when they beat the Maize and Blue, or maybe the producers know that putting games which Michigan loses on the BTN will attract viewers from the other 10 schools in the conference (to root against Michigan). The same could be said for OSU’s similar record hovering around 0.500 - when they have a "great game" on BTN, fans will watch to see them lose.
[I should note: Michigan vs Florida in the Capital One Bowl from 2008 has been on BTN several times, however this game is not listed, so there still may be some games out there which are not included in these numbers.]
At the end of the day, this is simply another interesting distraction for me, and hopefully you too... The classics are great, but I could really use some live college football. Go Blue.