Since Big Ten expansion became a reality, one of the biggest things facing Michigan and Ohio State fans is the issue of "what is going to happen to Michigan Ohio State Game?" Up to this point, we've been fortunate. For the most part fans, players, alumni, etc... have all been able to tell themselves that in spite of all the change around them, The Game is the one tradition that won't be touched. People have evaluated every rivalry on it's merit, and even the most disinterested SEC homer would tell you that The Game shouldn't be touched.
But with expansion there were a lot of issues that needed to be resolved in order to preserve The Game in its natural state. Divisions had to be created. Schedules had to be worked out. Competitive divisions had to be devised. And the more we got into the nitty gritty of how this would work out, the more absurd the reality became. Do you ship Penn State to the west division. Will it be North South? Who's going where? How do we keep tradition alive!?
Well, the answer seems to be "you don't."
During today's WTKA Michigan Insider, Sam Webb had the chance to interview Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon and asked him point blank about his feelings on the Division scenario and the future status of The Game.
SAM WEBB: Let's say that you're making the call on Big Ten Divisions, you are making the decision, are Michigan and Ohio State in the same division?
DAVID BRANDON: No.
SAM WEBB: And why?
DAVID BRANDON: Because we're in a situation where one of the best things that could happen, in my opinion in a given season, would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice. Once in the regular season and once for in the championship for the Big Ten.
It didn't stop there.
SAM WEBB: Would it be still be the tradition to keep that game [The Game] the last game of the season?
DAVID BRANDON: I think there's a distinct possibility that game will be a later game in the season, but not necessarily the last game of the season. And simply that's because... I don't think the coaches, or the players, or fans, networks or anyone would appreciate that match up to happen twice within a 7 day period. So however the division alignments occur... What you're really going to want is for that last game of the season to determine who's going to be the champion of that division and who is going to play for the Championship... Although I love playing OSU the last game of the year, I don't thinks it's necessarily a slam dunk.
That's pretty explicit. While Brandon made sure to caveat his words with "my opinion," you have to think he's operating this call with some inside information as to what is going to go down. Face it Michigan and Ohio State fans, The Game is getting moved.
/let it soak in/
There you go. Now that you've had a second to think about this, you're probably in one of three different camps on this issue:
1. The "I Really Just Don't Care" Camp: If you're showing up in this camp you're probably a little more pragmatic about college football and/or don't think this is the end of the world. You think that at this point Big Ten Expansion made changes to The Game inevitable. You love the Michigan Ohio State game, but it's just another rivalry game on the schedule regardless of when it's played. Frankly, it'd be kind of nice to watch a game you care about (like, The Game) in something other than freezing rain. The thought of an October kick off isn't really that big a deal to you, and in some ways is kind of preferable because it means you don't have to freeze your ass off in Ann Arbor the weekend after Thanksgiving. "Let's face it," you think, "we've expanded the conference, expanded the schedule, we're playing D1-AA teams, there are luxury boxes on the stadium, the guy in the head set is from West Virginia, we're running the spread, and now we're going to put our foot down about tradition?" As long as they play one another, You're fine with it.
2. "OH MY GOD NO! YOU'RE KILLING YOUR FATHER LARRY!" Camp: I think it's fair to say that if you fall into this camp David Brandon's comments just ruined your weekend. Other than someone accusing your mother of being passed around the backstage area of Woodstock like a bong, this is the greatest insult you've ever encountered to all you hold dear in your life. How can you move it!? IT'S TRADITION! This has no benefit to Michigan. This has no benefit to Ohio State. This is basically capitulating to teams in this conference that wouldn't be here unless we'd built this conference with our blood, sweat, tears, and scores of Irish and Chinese railroad workers. This is the final straw. I've had it. The world is ending and I'm taking everyone down with me. /loads rifle, climbs to top of bell tower/
In all seriousness, this is something that galls you. The Game is as much a part of the Big Ten as it's members. In many ways, the Big Ten is the Big Ten because of The Game. It has meaning. It has tradition. It's the one thing that simply shouldn't be screwed with despite all change going on around it. If we're changing The Game, why don't we make the field longer, put more players on the field and start playing like the CFL? This crap has to stop somewhere, right?
3. "This is good" Camp: If you fall into this camp, you're probably in the minority right now. But when you think about it you come to the "I think is okay" conclusion. When Michigan returns to it's rightful place in the college football world, you really don't want to have a back to back game against OSU (conversely you're a Buckeye and want to keep it winner take all). That's just insane. By spacing it out we're still getting the game, but we're also preserving the integrity of the championship game from a UM and OSU perspective. Further, if the teams aren't going to be in the same division, they actually get to the championship game for this to even be a problem. This way Michigan and Ohio State play once a year and it'll be meaningful. If they're playing the last game of the year in the same division it'll kill the rivalry because it won't be as important as the championship. If they both win their divisions, then we get a grudge match late in the year for all the marbles. It works!
What it comes down to is "what's best for Michigan?" If moving the game makes Michigan more money and makes it more likely that Michigan will play in BCS bowls, then you're down with the split. The other thing is you've seen what happens to good rivalries when they're kept in the same division. Alabama and Auburn is nothing compared to what it used to be. The divisional match up between Texas and OU was the defacto Big XII championship game and keeping all the heavy rivalries in one division basically killed the Big XII. Michigan and OSU will play every year. It'll be a great TV day. I'll be able to see the game in person without wearing a waterproof down jacket. And, hell, there's the prospect of the teams meeting again in the Championship! This is good!
So that's where we are.
Personally, I teeter between Group One and Group Three. As long as Michigan and Ohio State play one another every year, I'm good. Frankly, there's a part of me that *gasp* likes what David Brandon said. Even more, I don't think Jim Delany is holding a gun to his head when he said it. David Brandon's been a straight shooter from day one on the job and has been as hands on an Athletic Director as I can remember. He didn't have to say what he said. If he disagreed with the Big Ten's stance he could either keep his mouth shut or blame the BT in a couple of months for ruining the Rivalry. You know Delany would cut him some slack for a little bit of "public outcry." As the commissioner you have to let your AD's save some face. But Brandon said what was on his mind and I think he's dead on.
The toughest thing we as Michigan fans and fans of the Big Ten have to realize is that Tradition as we know it is constantly evolving. There were outcries when the league went to 11 teams, but I think that's worked out great for everyone. There were people who opposed expansion and a championship game (yours truly, in fact) before it happened. But it did. The whole definition of our conference and how football will be played in our stadiums for the next generation are constantly being revised. If you're looking for the overarching tradition here it's change itself.
We can't expect the college football world to change around us as we stay stuck in the past. If The Game is to remain relevant to college football as a whole, it too will have to change somewhat. There's really nothing we can do to stop it. You can stand there in Bigtenimen Square and try to stare down the tanks, but trust me on this, Jim Delany is driving and he ain't going to stop because you're standing there. So let's embrace the change that's coming and find a way to preserve the most important elements of The Game.
And perhaps the most important thing about this from a Michigan or Ohio State perspective is this: if both teams are winning, Michigan and Ohio State will get back to determining the Big Ten champion the old fashioned way.
In the last game of the Big Ten season.