What Would Bo and Woody Do? (Open Letter to Jim Delany)

Submitted by psychomatt on August 25th, 2010 at 5:21 AM

AN OPEN LETTER TO BIG TEN COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY

 

August 25, 2010                              

Mr. James E. Delany
Commissioner
Big Ten Conference
1500 West Higgins Road
Park Ridge, IL 60068-6300

Re: “What would Bo and Woody do?”

Dear Mr. Delany:

With all the rumors going around, I am writing to tell you how distraught I am that you are even thinking of putting Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions and moving The Game to earlier in the season. I have been a season ticket holder for 16 years and a huge Michigan fan since I was a boy. That said, I will spare you the talk about tradition and try to persuade you that, solely from a national interest and marketing perspective, Michigan and Ohio State should be placed in the same division and The Game should continue to be held on the final week of the regular season (or as close thereto as possible).

Michigan-Ohio State has developed over the past 40 years into THE college sports rivalry. No one sat down and came up with a formula or marketing plan to make it happen. It started with Bo and Woody in 1969 and grew organically into something extremely special. Alabama-Auburn doesn’t have it. Florida-Tennessee doesn’t either. Notre Dame-Southern Cal comes close, but still falls short. Even Texas-Oklahoma, albeit a significant national game very recently, has not held close to the same national interest historically. You cannot create a rivalry like The Game by trying. It just happens. And the idea that the B10 now thinks it can “tweak” the rivalry for marketing purposes is, well, so obviously a bad one, I cannot believe it is not immediately apparent to everyone.

If the goal is to have two Michigan-Ohio State games each year, please reconsider how “great” an idea you actually think that is. First of all, a Michigan-Ohio State rematch might not happen very often (see Miami-Florida State). If that is the case, then you will have substantially reduced the national significance of The Game for no benefit whatsoever. I am not speaking about regional interest, which will always exist, but national interest. The Game will become just another Alabama-Auburn or Cal-Stanford. Second, if a rematch happens too frequently, everyone will bemoan the fact that the two teams are playing twice far too often. Due to the frequency, the novelty of the rematches will wear off rather quickly. Moreover, the regular season game will lose much of its significance because the implications of the B10 Championship game will be far greater (i.e., the winner will go to either the Rose Bowl or BCS Championship). Thus, from a national perspective, the whole idea of trying to double the value of The Game by setting up two Michigan-Ohio State head-to-heads each year is fundamentally flawed from the start.

Additionally, consider the three modern examples of how major rivalries have fared as conferences have moved to divisions over the past 20 years. One (Texas-Oklahoma) has been successful while the other two (Oklahoma-Nebraska and Miami-Florida State) have failed miserably. The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry works because every year the two teams have to go through each other to reach the B12 Championship game. It is a battle to the death for the B12 South. If anything, that rivalry has thrived by having both teams in the same division. In contrast, the Oklahoma-Nebraska and Miami-Florida State rivalries are all but dead except for whatever regional attraction they still hold. The only thing I can think of that could possibly enhance the current Texas-Oklahoma rivalry would be if they moved it to the final week of the B12 regular season. With the B12’s new round robin format, I would not be surprised to see that conference attempt to do something along those lines in the next few years. How ironic would it be to watch The Game lose much of its luster and the Red River Rivalry take its place in part because the B12 successfully copied some of the key elements of The Game and the B10 abandoned them?

My strong suggestion would be to leave Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State in the Eastern Division along with Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana. Yes, this is the plain old geographic solution (not intentionally and, if need be, the bottom three teams of each division could be moved around to optimize rivalries), but sometimes the simplest answers are actually the best. The combination of Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa in the Western Division should be, in most if not all years, sufficient to provide the heft and gravitas necessary to guarantee that every B10 Championship game will be competitive. Moreover, over the past 10 years, it cannot be denied that the trio of Northwestern, Illinois and Minnesota have been a stronger “bottom three” than Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana. Should Illinois rebound even partly from its recent slump, the Western Division actually could develop into the tougher of the two divisions from top to bottom. Under this relatively uncomplicated divisional alignment, the B10 would still have The Game, unadulterated, not watered-down, possibly even during the final week of the regular season, and the B10 also would have a great new B10 Championship game that would frequently showcase the winner of The Game as the representative of the Eastern Division.

Finally, and this is not a threat but a sincere caution, if the B10 chooses to drastically change The Game and that decision turns out badly, like it or not, whatever else you do will be largely viewed through the prism of that legacy. You will not be remembered primarily for enhancing the B10 academically or athletically. You will not be remembered primarily for having the courage and foresight to launch the Big Ten Network or for expanding the B10 with the brilliant addition of Nebraska. You will be remembered primarily as the key decision-maker who thought he was smarter than everyone else and who, as a result, inadvertently destroyed the greatest rivalry in college sports in a misguided attempt to make the richest conference in the country just a little bit richer. I do not think I would want to risk that as my legacy if I had any other reasonable option. I am absolutely certain I would not want to try to explain it to Bo and Woody when the time comes.

In sum, the far more responsible and less risky decision is to leave Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State together in the Eastern Division. If the B10 does that and it turns out that one division is consistently stronger than the other, no one will blame the conference for revisiting the decision and rebalancing the divisions in five or six years (or whenever conference expands again). However, if geographic divisions work reasonably well, the B10 will have avoided the risk of splitting Michigan and Ohio State and moving The Game – something that carries dubious marketing value at best and unquestionably goes against all sense of tradition and history. Notwithstanding the best intentions, by substantially playing around with the magic that is The Game, the B10 risks irrevocably damaging its unparalleled national appeal and could actually kill the goose the laid the golden egg.  Such a drastic step should be considered only as an unavoidable last resort.

Sincerely,

 

Michigan Law ‘91

GO BLUE!!!

Comments

Yellow Fever

August 25th, 2010 at 5:49 AM ^

Well thought out and well written.  However, the rivalry goes much further back than the Bo and Woody era.  Surely the "10 Year War" added some much needed competition to The Game after a dismal run by UofM and that is what the legendary coaches brought back to the rivalry.

sman13

August 25th, 2010 at 7:23 AM ^

Well written and effective I hope. Only thing that may raise some eyebrows is UM, OSU and PSU in same division since leaves Nebraska with a somewhat significant edge in getting to B10 championship. But again, well said

Hemlock Philosopher

August 25th, 2010 at 8:15 AM ^

You would think Nebraska had a huge advantage in the B12 North with Iowa State, Mizzou, Colorado, Kansas and Kansas State.  I don't recall them being there often.  I think the hypothetical B10 West is stronger than the old B12 North.

Very well written, psychomatt. 

Swayze Howell Sheen

August 25th, 2010 at 8:24 AM ^

"One of the most common mistakes new leaders makeand I just can't for the life of me understand this oneis to ignore the history of the organization they just took over, or even to disrespect it. That, to me, is the mark of a weak leaderand one who's probably not going to last very long."

Who said it? Well, Bo, of course. From Bo's Lasting Lessons...

 

 

AeonBlue

August 25th, 2010 at 11:11 AM ^

Even when Rich Rodriguez came to Michigan and was unaware of certain traditions such as the #1 jersey, when he was corrected, he gladly accepted the tradition for what it was. It looks like he's even trying to impliment some new traditions of his own which is cool by me. I remember watching the first game of 2008 with my buddy Drew and both of us were on the edge of our seat before the game even started, wondering if he was going to jump up and touch the M Club banner. Jim Delany would be a fool to move The Game.

Wolverine0056

August 25th, 2010 at 8:29 AM ^

Very well written. I will agree while the "East" would be more "top heavy" than the "West," the "West" will be stronger throughout the division. Hopefully this is the way it is broken down, but only time will tell on what the ADs and Mr. Delany decide.

oakapple

August 25th, 2010 at 8:48 AM ^

I think the only open letter Jim Delaney will understand is the (as yet, non-existent) letter from Mary Sue Coleman and Gordon Gee telling him that they will publicly denounce and fight him tooth and nail to keep Michigan and Ohio State in the same division.

double blue

August 25th, 2010 at 10:01 AM ^

i don't care about being in the same division as long as the game stays the game osu-um at the end of the season.  so what if we end up in an immediate rematch- if anything i think that coudl be more exciting.   god how i wish we could have had another shot at osu in 06.

 

if this was still the big2 and little 8 i would understand the fears of having constant year ending rematches, but we have moved (in some ways unfortunately) way past that time period.

a2bluefan

August 25th, 2010 at 10:24 AM ^

...(or as close thereto as possible).

...possibly even during the final week of the regular season...

These statements would seem to weaken your stance ever so slightly. You wrote a beautiful letter which I agree with 9000%. Why leave even a hint of wiggle room? Stand your ground! Leave "The Game" alone!

GunnersApe

August 25th, 2010 at 10:44 AM ^

If Bo & Woody were still here I think they would threaten to go Independent. The Big Ten needs UM/OSU more, leave and let PSU/Nebraska pick up the pieces.

 -UM/OSU network deal (NBC/ABC/ESPN), who cares someone will bite. One at 12:00, one at 3:30.

-I'm sure other Big Money teams will fall in line once they see the cash (TEX/USC/ND/Top end SEC schools). If it’s a money grab make it a Have/Have Some/Feeder Fish NCAA. Texas is doing this now with their strangle hold on the Big XII/8.

 For UM Schedule: ND(contract is up in what 2035ish?), MSU (those parasites needs the exposure plus they cannot come with due to the 1973 debacle), OSU (last GD game in November). 2 or 3 feeder fish, 2 or 3 Have Some(s) from ACC/Big East/PAC/SEC/Big XII, well anyway you get it.

 Sorry I'm just firing from the hip. End Rant.

harmon98

August 25th, 2010 at 11:13 AM ^

well done.

I'm not a risk management expert but it's pretty clear to me the upside is considerably more risky to the downside if you move Michigan and OSU to separate divisions and move the game.  and I think you've noted that in your letter quite clearly.

steve sharik

August 25th, 2010 at 11:15 AM ^

...there's no way they would want to have a scenario that would leave them zero possibility of playing each other for the championship. 

M-OSU in the same division is just extraordinarily stupid.

steve sharik

August 25th, 2010 at 3:25 PM ^

The group who sacrificed The Game as is, is the Big Ten Conference.  Once they went to 12 teams w/2 divisions, The Game ceased to be as is.

Did I suggest moving The Game?  No.

I suggest opposite divisions, protected crossover week being the last week of the regular season.

And if you want M-OSU to only play for a division title, you, sir, are wrong.  It is sterile and pre-climactice or, worse, the Big Ten title game is anti-climactic.

Imagine M-OSU play for the division title.  Michigan wins!  Big Ten title game against...Iowa? Nebraska? Woo.  Remember all those let downs in the Rose Bowl after we beat OSU back in the day?  That's what you want, apparently.

brad

August 25th, 2010 at 4:40 PM ^

That's not so bad, since there will likely not be a rematch.  In that case, we have your "woo" scenario.  I have no problem with that.

M vs. OSU in Michigan Stadium on the last day of the regular season is the antithesis of sterile!  Are you serious?  Adding a team and splitting into divisions does change the game.  However, that does not blow the game up all by itself.  We can maintain the organic perfection of this particular rivalry and this game by playing it at the end of the season.  I now see that we agree there.  Same division, different division, just play last.  That finality means something.

On the Big Ten title game, I refuse to hang my hopes for a proper Big Ten climax on a game played in Indianapolis.  Much better would be the final regular season weekend featuring M-OSU, PSU-Nebraska, all playing for that spot in the title game.

McFate

August 25th, 2010 at 12:13 PM ^

Two comments:

(1) In-division games are naturally more meaningful than cross-division games, because of the head-to-head tiebreaker for getting to the title game.  If you lose to the other good team in your division, they'd have to lose two other games for you to get to the title game.  A cross-division loss is not that big a deal, because one can still guarantee getting to the title game by beating everyone in the division.

The Big 8 took their equivalent of Michigan-OSU (season-ending game between traditional powers that was regularly for the conference title), and turned it into Michigan-ND (an interesting early-season matchup between traditional powers, but not really all that meaningful for the division race).  And they ended up with one Oklahoma-Nebraska title game in 14 years -- despite adding only one perennial power (Texas) to the conference, while the Big Ten will have added two (PSU, Nebraska).

(2) Late games are natually more meaningful than early games, because there is a clearer idea of what is on the line.  If Michigan beats Iowa in mid-October, do we know whether that knocked Iowa out of the Big Ten title?  Not really.  Last year, despite the awful season, we knew that Michigan's game with Ohio State was for bowl eligibility.  Had it been in October, it would have been "a rebuilding Michigan versus a rolling OSU team, big deal."

For these reasons, splitting OSU into the other division AND playing The Game earlier in the season is a double-whammy of reduced importance.  It is astonishing to me that anyone would even consider it -- especially if the main reason for doing so is the possibility of a rematch that would probably be a twice-per-generation outcome.

None of the chocies is all that good, given expansion to 12 teams.  No matter what is done, the importance of OSU-Michigan will take a hit:

(1) Split across divisions, play earlier in the year.  Reduces the importance of The Game and probably will not yield a rematch all that often.  (And if guaranteed to play every year, Michigan and OSU end up with slightly tougher schedules than their division-mates who will rotate on and off OSU/Michigan's schedules.)

(2) Split across divisions still played at end of season.  Might have to play OSU  back-to-back, the more important in-division games aren't played last, and rematches still won't be common.  (Plus the more difficult schedule thing.)

(3) Same division, still play at end of season.  The teams are playing for a division title instead of the BIg Ten title.

But even though all the choices are bad, they're not all equally bad.  (1) is clearly the worst -- the end result is turning Michigan-OSU into Michigan-ND.  But it seems to be the direction we are headed, judging by the comments from various ADs and Delany.  I'm partial to (3) because I don't think rematches are likely enough to care about and because it allows more fairness in scheduling, but I could see that some would favor (2).

Topher

August 25th, 2010 at 12:32 PM ^

Good, but long, and I think you've overplayed your hand in a couple of places, notably here:

"In contrast, the Oklahoma-Nebraska and Miami-Florida State rivalries are all but dead except for whatever regional attraction they still hold."

True, OU-NU is almost dead. Two things have killed it - not playing every year, and the collapse of NU's program.

But Miami-Florida State is still a primetime blue-chip college football event. Last year's game was a classic. That game has fallen off as the two programs have lost consistency and have been passed by other programs in the conference but it has enough talent and theatrics to make the game entertaining to the national audience. Putting it at the beginning of the season was a huge risk but it's more or less worked out in giving the country a great slam-bang game.

OU-UT has a tradition of being midseason at the state fair, and that tradition helps it work.

Also none of these rivalries have the longstanding quality of UM-OSU. That being said, Michigan had better get it turned around; if we can't put up a fight against Ohio State in the next season or two, The Game will go the way of these other matchups - still watched, but of diminshed importance.

jmblue

August 25th, 2010 at 1:41 PM ^

People, let's keep this campaign going.  It's clear that Brandon, unfortunately, doesn't speak for us on this issue so we have to do what we can.  

OldManUfer

August 25th, 2010 at 8:51 PM ^

I do not think I would want to risk that as my legacy if had another reasonable option. I am absolutely certain I would not want to try to explain it to Bo and Woody when the time comes. In sum, the far more responsible and less risky decision is to leave Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State together in the Eastern Division. If the B10 does that and it turns out that one division is consistently stronger than the other, no one will blame the conference for revisiting the decision and rebalancing the divisions in five or six years (or whenever conference expands again). However, if geographic divisions work reasonably well, the B10 will have avoided the risk of splitting Michigan and Ohio State and moving The Game – something that carries dubious marketing value at best and unquestionably goes against all sense of tradition and history.

Jim Delaney doesn't strike me as risk averse, this line of reasoning probably doesn't have the intended effect. Otherwise, I think you make your argument well. Unfortunately it's not going to make a lick of difference to those making the decision. For the record, I'm in the camp that will always look at The Game as The Game, regardless of the setup. National signifigance is great in recruiting and exposure, but we make the rivalry and I don't think these specifics are going to diminish it significantly. My ideal scenario would probably be for Michigan and OSU to be split, but it seems the majority disagree and I believe it's wise to cater to your fans.