Moving Ohio State-Michigan would be an epic error by the Big Ten
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Bill Livingston
The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Big Ten, which has had 11 teams since 1993 and which will have 12 in the fall of 2011, clearly has learned to live with error in enumeration.

[IMGR]http://i38.tinypic.com/2z7rdjq.jpg[/IMGR]An adjectival error of vast proportions will occur if, in the new, two-division Big Ten of next season, the Ohio State-Michigan game moves from the end of the regular season. The conference's biggest attraction simply won't be as big anymore if that happens, and the league will be diminished, too.

Keeping The Game -- its simple, arrogant, fully deserved nickname -- in November would likely require putting the rivals in the same division when the league expands in 2011 by admitting Nebraska. This is a natural-enough procedure since Ohio and Michigan share a common border and, indeed, once almost sent their militias out to teach each other a lesson in a 19th century dispute over Toledo.

It is obvious that the Big Ten had to change. Ending the regular season before the Thanksgiving weekend showcase games was a mistake. Having no forum in December, when championship games in the SEC and Big 12 attract national attention and a resulting rise in their teams' poll standing, was another mistake.

But the biggest mistake would be to mess with the timing of The Game.

If OSU and Michigan are separated by division, as is possible in some realignment scenarios, The Game would be played earlier, probably in October.

Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee said the decision-makers are aware of fan sentiment on the issue. On both sides of the rivalry, fans overwhelmingly have voted in polls to leave Ohio State-Michigsan where it is.

Proponents of moving The Game say placing the schools in opposite divisions could provide more of a good thing, in the form of a rematch in the Big Ten Championship Game that begins next season.

Gee, for his part, is fine with separate divisions and a championship game rematch, as long as The Game is late in the regular season. "We want to beat them twice," said Gee.

While the first Big Ten championship game will do great box office business because of its novelty, rematches are seldom a tonic to national interest. Along with money, the championship game is really about enhancing the Big Ten's profile in the previously fallow month of December.

A single event is bigger than a trend. The one-and-done NCAA Tournament in basketball is part of Americana in a way that the NBA Finals is not. Ohio State-Michigan is an event of inordinate importance and unparalleled prestige. It is not a series.

Nor should it be followed by other ho-hum games, like Indiana or Minnesota, as it would be were it played in midseason. The Game belongs in November, with turkeys on the table and Pilgrims in buckled hats.

"One of the big things about the rivalry is that it's the last game," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel once said. "It allows you to see how much progress your team has made over the course of the season. It's a kind of summing up."

Exactly.

Playing Ohio State-Michigan anytime except at the end of the season is like divulging in the middle of a mystery that the butler did it. It's clashing the cymbals too soon. Ohio State-Michigan doesn't "set the tone" for the Big Ten race. It's the roaring, thunderous crescendo to it.

The Sun Belt schools have most of the national championships, a bigger population base from which to recruit and the home-field advantage in most of the bowl games. The Big Ten has a lot of quaint relics of the pioneer past, in games played for the Old Oaken Bucket, Paul Bunyan's Axe and the Little Brown Jug. But it also has The Game.

Nothing the Sun Belt schools do in bowl games can diminish the Big Ten brand as much as the Big Ten itself might by foolishly tampering with its biggest asset.

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