May 26, 2024

ANALYSIS: Why moving the Ohio State-Michigan game is a bad ideaMichigan, Ohio State rivalry: CFP expansion could diminish a great thing -  Sports Illustrated

Ryan Day might be right having Ohio State and Michigan play football earlier in the season than they have for nearly nine decades is worth discussing.

Many things are. Debate is good, as is hearing both sides of an issue.

But the conclusion from such deliberations should be fairly obvious to anyone well-versed in or long-familiar with what’s frequently called the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

The Buckeyes and Wolverines should continue playing the final regular season game of the college football season even as the landscape of the sport shifts around them.

Sure, reasons to consider moving the rivalry game to another week earlier in the season exist. They’re just insufficient to prove it should actually be done.

he No. 1 argument is playing back to back weeks, as the Buckeyes and Wolverines could following the Big Ten’s decision to follow the rest of the herd and eliminate divisions next season, just feels unpalatable.

An immediate rematch would be bad for the rivalry, especially if they know before the first matchup there would be a second.

This is true.

However, the damage done from sometimes having a rematch would be exponentially worse than the fallout of moving The Game every season.

Being the last game of the regular season is inseparable from the identity of the rivalry between the Buckeyes and Wolverines. This is an important fact that cannot be overstated, or repeated enough apparently.

Ohio State-Michigan became a rivalry because of proximity and general dislike for each other.

That is how most rivalries develop.

But it became The Game because of what is generally riding on it — that is to say, everything.

Yes, bragging rights, but also for decades the Big Ten championship more often than not. If the Buckeyes and Wolverines weren’t playing a de facto conference title game (which they did 24 times), one team at least had the opportunity to knock the other one out of first place in the league and perhaps the national championship picture.

That is not possible if they play in September or October, when a single loss is painful but hardly fatal, and that is why games like Oklahoma-Texas and Florida-Georgia are big but not Ohio State-Michigan.

That is also a major reason why the rivalry endured Michigan being down for much of the last 20 years, and why it would be expected to survive one of the teams going into a dip in the future.

Yes, recent changes to college football have cheapened The Game somewhat, and future changes will cheapen it more.

Playing in October instead of November won’t fix that but rather exacerbate the negative impact.

Moving The Game would be a spectacular unforced error, locking in a reduction in the intensity of the rivalry just in case something else happens sometimes that would reduce the intensity of the rivalry.

On one hand, rematches are bad for the rivalry because they would cheapen the first game the teams played in a given year.

On the other, they still aren’t likely to be so common something has to be done to avoid them.

The potential to play spoiler is another major aspect of the rivalry being what it’s become as some of the most memorable games in the series were more damaging for the loser (1969, ‘93 ‘95, ‘96) than they were positive for the winner.

Preemptively removing one team’s ability to destroy the other team’s season would be self-defeating.

Cheating every edition of some drama to avoid cheapening some editions really makes no sense if you think about it for long, does it?

So how common would rematches even be?

oved to the end of the season in 1935 shows the teams would have played about 24 rematches (in a couple of seasons I’m not certain what the tiebreakers were or how they would translate to the current conference format). That is a little more than a quarter of the time.

Is that enough to justify such a massive change?

Doesn’t really seem like it.

Furthermore, nine of the rematches would have come from 1968-1977, so beyond the height of Woody vs. Bo, they are even less common.

And perhaps they will be even less likely in the new 16-team Big Ten, which introduces potential powerhouse USC to the mix and frees Penn State from having to play both Ohio State and Michigan every year.

Even if Ohio State and Michigan remain the unquestioned top two teams in the league — which is no guarantee — schedules will be spread thinly enough another team could conceivably put together a better record than one or both simply by playing a weaker slate of conference teams.

Beyond that, sometimes pushing back against the march of progress is fine, and this is one of those times.

Often nowadays people frown upon continuing to do things because that is just the way they have always been done.

Tradition is not often treated as a reason to maintain the status quo anymore.

In this case, it should be. Especially since the alternative arguments aren’t strong enough anyway.

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