(This is an opinion piece by Maize n Brew’s staff writer Andrew McDonald)
If there is one thing in sports within the state lines of Michigan that divides people, it’s the rivalry between the universities of Michigan and Michigan State.
Going all the way from married couples that have what is known as a “house divided”, to simply a few friends at work trying to gain bragging rights by one team beating the other when they compete.
Of course, this split between the two schools brings up many arguments and disagreements when it comes to what really happened in a game or why their team is better.
However, the news that was officially announced on Monday, July 31, seemed to have both sides dumbfounded and left with no true answer.
As it was hinted at earlier this summer in Michigan’s non-conference schedule release, and is now official, the Wolverines and Spartans will only get together for one meeting (without a current date) in East Lansing for the 2017-18 season.
It doesn't make sense for the fans, the teams or the conference as a whole to not have the two rivals collide in more than one contest.
You can’t sugar coat it or find a positive. It doesn't seem right, or in my opinion, have a truly logical reason behind it.
This is now the second time in the past three seasons that UM and MSU will only get together once during the regular season. Since Beilein has been at Michigan, the rivalry has gotten much better and more evened out, with the intensity around the game more evident than any time in recent memory.
MSU head coach Tom Izzo (who is 13-9 against Michigan during Beilein’s tenure), Beilein and the other Big Ten Conference coaches voted back in May on making it certain that these two schools had a “protected rivalry” which assures them at least two meetings per year.
The coaches gave it “unanimous support” according to a report from mlive. Apparently, the Big Ten scheduling crew didn't have the same priorities when putting together the games for this upcoming season.
The real question to be asked here is, why wouldn't it be their top priority?
Starting in 1972, the two programs competed against each other twice a season until 2001, when they broke the streak and played just once in East Lansing.
The only other times that has happened since then was in the 2008-09 and 2015-16 seasons when the two squads only played in Ann Arbor.
Despite those hiccups, the game has now become fairly regular to have large implications and swing momentum in either team’s season, with both meetings being key for that to happen.
For example, last year in the first meeting between the two teams, Michigan put up a fight and hung around until the final minutes when MSU put them away to secure the victory. In the following match up just a couple of weeks later, Michigan steamrolled the Spartans by nearly 30 points (86-57) and it proved to be a turning point in the Wolverine’s season.
Regardless of who wins or loses this year's contest, the loser will not have a chance to rebound and earn any bragging rights or gain a solid amount of momentum from beating arguably their biggest rival. At the end of the day, it gives an advantage to MSU since they are hosting the game and play well at the Breslin Center.
Next, if you wanted to get into the numbers and money side of this issue, it only can be thought of as a positive outcome for both schools.
Normally, one game is played on ESPN during the week as a part of their “Rivalry Week” with the big battles between different universities throughout the NCAA. The other is usually the national game of the week on CBS starting early in the afternoon on a Sunday.
CBS had it ratings double last season compared to 2015 and in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game (Michigan vs Wisconsin) had a 10 percent growth from a year ago. The Michigan and MSU game on CBS was in the top 10 for the highest ratings of a televised conference matchup this past year.
At home games, the Big Ten eclipsed an attendance total of over three-million (3,026,859) for the season, which is the second time that has happened in the past three years.
Big rivalry games like UM and MSU are what all of these fans look forward to, so why not make it regular for them to play twice?
The conference portion of the schedule that was made official on Monday, looks like this for Michigan:
Home/Away: Iowa, Maryland, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue
Home: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers
Away: Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin
(All dates TBD)
Sure, Michigan and OSU are still big rivals even if it isn't amplified as much as the football meeting, so two games between the foes makes sense.
Home and away games against teams like Purdue and Maryland make sense, because those two programs along with Michigan have been in the race for a Big Ten regular-season title over the past number of years.
While Iowa and Northwestern have both had their share of success over the past couple of campaigns, it doesn't quite sell me to be a better meeting than two teams who can’t stand each other.
If it brings more students and fans to the games, gets better TV ratings than non-rivalry games and both teams want it to be a norm to play twice a season, why not replace one of those home/away meetings with MSU against UM instead?
Your answer to that question would be just as good as mine.
While it is apparent that scheduling these games in a 14-team league with 18-league games can be difficult, it should be a standard to have rivals meet twice per season, even more so when the programs and other schools are pushing for it to be protected.
There is talk of expanding the conference season to 20 games, but with no divisions in basketball it is hard to do when keeping in mind the other conference rivalries as well.
The difference is the Michigan vs Michigan State game is more than just some rivalry game. It has produced some of the best games and finishes the conference has seen over the past 10 seasons. Any college basketball fan, who doesn't take a side, would want more of that than two schools who don’t get as pumped up to play each other.
This rivalry game needs to be protected and made into a two-year appearance every single season. While the two programs are playing at the high levels they are, it only makes sense.
Beilein can see it, Izzo can see it, a majority of Big Ten coaches see it and I, as a college basketball enthusiast, am more than behind them playing twice.
The question that needs to be answered is, why can’t the Big Ten schedule makers, athletic directors or coaches that are against the idea view it the same?
That is a question that still has no concrete answer.