Will Big Ten Divisions Ruin the Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry?

Adam Hirshfield@ahirshfieldFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2010

I’ve been a Michigan fan since birth.

As a newborn, my parents showed me off for the first time to the family members—many of whom were U of M alums themselves—wearing Wolverines baby clothes.

Family gatherings were scheduled around autumn games at the Big House.

Bo was treated like a deity around the house. “Woody” was considered a curse word.

When I took up the trumpet as a teen, the first song I learned to play was “The Victors.”

Despite being out of the NFL for two years now, Brian Griese is still my mom’s first pick in our family’s annual fantasy football draft.

And just as much as that sort of upbringing instilled in me a pro-“everything maize and blue” attitude, it was centered nearly as much on the hating of all things scarlet and gray, the colors of our hated rivals from Columbus: THE Ohio State University (honestly, is there a more puffed-up, self-aggrandizing, annoying classification in all of sports?)

But with that hatred comes a modicum of respect.

With Wednesday’s reports that Michigan and Ohio State will be placed in different divisions of the new 12-team “Big Ten,” several issues came to bear.

Despite Michigan being placed in one as-of-yet unnamed division with Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Big Ten newbies Nebraska (Ohio State is in the other division with Illinois, Indiana, Penn State, Purdue, and Wisconsin), will the Wolverines and Buckeyes continue to play each other as they have 106 times over the last 113 years?

The answer, it seems, is yes. Rivals.com suggests that each of the 12 schools in the new league will play eight conference games a season. Each will play the other five schools within its division and then will also take on three teams from the other division, including one annual “rivalry game” in a cross-division matchup.

Could they meet in the Big Ten Championship Game? Or could the geniuses running college football actually allow “The Game” to go the way of the dodo bird and the dollar cup of coffee?

It seems that the annual November clash will continue, but I’m still perplexed by the thinking of the folks running the Big Ten.

For several reasons.

First—and most obviously—um…THIS IS THE GREATEST RIVALRY IN ALL OF COLLEGE SPORTS! If you’re going to split up the teams into divisions, keeping Michigan and Ohio State together is the first requirement. Hell, it’s the ONLY requirement.

Second, if you’re going to split the teams up, why wouldn’t you do it in a sensible way?

Like, for example, geographically, so that teams can minimize travel time and expenses? Aren’t these kids supposedly college students? Shouldn’t they be going to class on Friday instead of making the sizable trek from Ann Arbor to Lincoln? But obviously, minimizing travel clearly wasn’t the goal: Illinois and Northwestern are in the same flipping state, for goodness sakes, and they’ll be in different divisions of the new Big Ten.

Or maybe they could have broken up the teams in hopes of keeping the biggest rivalries—both on the field and in recruiting—alive? Obviously this wasn’t the goal, either, what with U of M and OSU—not to mention Minnesota and Wisconsin—now on different sides of the conference brackets.

According to the Associated Press, creating divisions “with competitive equality” was the top priority, said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, while second in line was “maintaining a cross-division rivalry game.”

Competitive equality I get. But why maintain cross-division rivalry game? Why not maintain an in-division rivalry game? Wouldn’t that make for more drama, having a Red Sox-Yankees-like in-division rivalry to monitor throughout the regular season?

"I'm very pleased that we came out of this with protected rivalries that will go on permanently with Ohio State and Michigan State," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told The Associated Press.

"We'll play Ohio State in the last game of the regular season, following a tradition that has lasted for decades. And if we both earn the right, we can play the Buckeyes again in the Big Ten championship game."

OK, but doesn’t the possibility of meeting up again in a conference championship dilute the importance of the regular season rivalry game? Of course! How significant is the regular season matchup going to be if, say, the Wolverines and Buckeyes could meet up again at a neutral site a week or two later?

Even worse, how significant would that November matchup be if one or both of the teams had already clinched a spot in the conference title game and decided to rest some of its top players?

To be fair, any conference championship game—whether it matches up Michigan and Ohio State or any of the other 10 schools—dilutes the importance of the regular season Big Ten games.

And, of course, the way Michigan has played the past few seasons, being anywhere near that championship game seems unlikely any time in the immediate future.

But still.

I get that the landscape of college football is changing. I can embrace that to a certain degree. I don’t have a choice.

But mess with my Michigan-Ohio State rivalry? Not cool, Big Ten.


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