Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Save The Game

Update: The Game is still set to be the last game the next two seasons. But after that, who knows?

On November 18, 2006, Michigan and Ohio State played a football game. They do this every year, of course. Many years before that point, the Big Ten title and/or a trip to the Rose Bowl has been decided by this game. The natural rivalry due to proximity has only been heightened on a regular basis by these sorts of raised stakes.

In 2006, however, things couldn't get much bigger. Both teams were undefeated and ranked #1 and #2. Not only would this game decide the Big Ten Championship, but it would also decide one of the contenders to play for the BCS National Championship. Everything but that NC was on the line that night.

Ohio State won by three points. It was everything people had hyped it to be. In the following weeks, one of the hot topics was whether the two teams should meet again, this time for the title. This game, some argued, had shown that it could have gone either way, and perhaps no other team would be able to step up and make its case. Many others argued against it, citing logical problems. For instance, if Michigan ended up winning the second game, would they then need to play a third and final tie-breaker? Michigan had their shot, others said. It's someone else's turn now.

(Florida, whom many wrote off before the game was played, stomped Ohio State into the ground, 41-14 in the title game. Just thought I'd remind everyone. Florida used a fully-functioning version of the spread offense, with depth on both sides of the ball and upperclassmen in most positions, to do it. Just thought I'd remind everyone of that, too.)

The arguments made against Michigan getting a rematch spring to mind as the Big Ten, which is now technically the Big Twelve, deliberate on how to split the Conference into two divisions. One of the biggest issues being considered here is whether to split Michigan and Ohio State into separate divisions, which would open the possibility of the two teams meeting again in the Conference Championship game at the end of the season. To be honest, it's all about TV ratings and money: getting these two to play a second time for all the Conference stakes would be the higher-ups' dream come true. The Game is one of the defining features of the Big Ten, so they want to maximize mileage.

Unfortunately, one of the probable by-products of this scenario would be that The Game would be moved to mid-season. It would no longer happen during "rivalry week," when most other big rivalry games happen. What would it be like for a huge rivalry game to take place mid-season, with nothing really at stake besides bragging rights and the limited possibility that they'd see each other again at the end of the season? I'll tell you: it wouldn't be as huge. Not even close.

When Michigan and Ohio State meet for their annual clash at seasons' end, there is more at stake more often than not. Even when nothing is at stake, the entire season builds to that game. Everyone on both sides anticipates its arrival, prepares for it in various ways even in the midst of preparing for other opponents. Beating that team matters most, and thus that game gets circled on the calendar. That sense of anticipation would be lost if played halfway through the season.

Aside from that, what about the logical points that were brought up in late 2006 that kept the two teams from having a rematch? If Ohio State beats Michigan in their mid-season match-up, but then they meet in the title game and Michigan wins, what happens? How could Michigan be considered the true Big Ten Champion by beating OSU if the earlier game had gone the other way? The reasoning that was used nearly four years ago is now being ignored in the name of short-sighted corporate greed.

Now, watch this. Say Ohio State and Michigan play in the same division. Say they've both run the table and are set to meet in The Game in mid-November (BEFORE Thanksgiving, thank you very much). So they're both undefeated, they hate each other besides, and they both want a spot in the Big Ten title game. That's not big enough? Having to get past the other to compete for the Conference's biggest prize, along with either a spot in the Rose Bowl or a spot in the NC game, wouldn't be enough to give that game the hype that TV people want it to have? Even if the team that makes it into the Big Ten game loses, they may get another BCS game while the team that had to watch from home gets some other less prestigious bowl.

I know, I'm thinking like a fan of the rivalry who actually wants to preserve The Game and not like a guy who gives a crap about ratings or whatever. Silly me.

If Bo and Woody were around to see this, they'd rip somebody's head off. And not just because they'd be zombies.