OPINION: Moving the Michigan-Ohio State football game would be a bad decision
Just leave it alone.
That’s the best piece of advice on this Sunday. Don’t touch it. Let it stay where it is.
“It,” of course, is the Michigan vs. Ohio State football game.
As Big Ten officials shake up their conference to look more like the ACC, they are flirting with an idea so bad it is borderline laughable.
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
The league, at least from parsing the words of Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, is thinking about moving the Michigan-Ohio State game off its typical last week of the regular-season spot to somewhere else in the fall.
The reasoning, from a television perspective, is understandable. Having the same two teams play two weeks in a row is undesirable. Ratings could suffer, especially if that first game is a blowout and Michigan and Ohio State are in separate divisions.
You worry about fans filling the seats for the second game at a neutral site. But here is where the Big Ten logic is flawed.
It could happen with any two teams at any time. Rematches happen.
They happen in the NFL, where almost every year a game in the last week of the regular season reappears as a first-round playoff matchup. They happen in college basketball, in college football, in almost any sport you can think of.
So why mess with a bunch of tradition just on the off chance you might see Michigan-Ohio State twice in a row?
Because if you don’t think it’ll alter things, well, listen to Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton.
“I think that will change things a lot for the tradition of the rivalry and all that,” Mouton said. “I have no control over what happens, you know, but I would like to see it stay the same, the last game of the year.”
Move this rivalry game and it is no longer a destination date on the calendar. Families plan pilgrimages to the Midwest around this game. Bars fill. Hotels jack up prices and immediately sell out.
Moving Michigan-Ohio State off of its for-years place on the schedule is like moving the Indianapolis 500 away from Memorial Day weekend or the last day of the U.S. Open off Father’s Day.
It will look different. Feel different. And it will, as Mouton said, change things. Even though not everyone believes it.
“It’s most important that we’re still playing each other,” Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez said. “The rivalry, the intensity of it, will be the same whether you’re playing first, middle or last.
“It’s been pretty neat having it the last game, but I think because of the way the landscape is changing and all that, it may be more difficult to do it. I think the most important thing is that we’re playing.”
The majority of the standout rivalries in college football have set dates. Tennessee-Alabama is the third Saturday in October. Notre Dame-USC is Thanksgiving weekend when the game is in Los Angeles and in mid-October in South Bend. Nebraska-Colorado is Thanksgiving weekend, as is Georgia-Georgia Tech and Florida-Florida State.
Having those dates help make the rivalries special. Permanent.
Another part of playing Michigan-Ohio State in its current spot is both teams are tired, worn down. And they have their most important game of the season at the end.
“Usually that game comes down to possibly playing for the Rose Bowl or a Big Ten championship,” Mouton said. “At the end of the season, both teams are beat up, it’s the end of a long season.
“It’s kind of, you have to gut it out against your rivals.”
Playing Michigan-Ohio State as the season opener, for example, does nothing for either team. Coaches won’t like it. Neither team will have peaked. And, for the loser of the game, suddenly it’s infinitely more difficult to reach the BCS.
In Michigan’s case, it would potentially put Ohio State and Notre Dame back-to-back, a gauntlet that would leave the Wolverines with at least one loss most years by mid-September. It’d have the same effect with Ohio State, which often plays a marquee non-conference opponent in the season’s second week.
Putting the game in the middle of the season allows it to be lost in the cacophony of college football unless both teams are ranked near the top of the polls.
Having this game at the end is the culmination of a season-long crescendo.
Michigan-Indiana at the end of the year, for example, doesn’t offer the same cachet.
And it never will.