Today I have been tasked with deciding whether or not the Big Ten did the right thing during the recent realignment by putting Michigan and Ohio State in different divisions. Of course, I was hoping to be the judge for the “Should a conference with 11 (soon to be 12) teams be called the Big Ten?” debate, but I’ve been told that we’ll be waiting on that debate until we start themathdebates.com. I believe that would be an easier verdict to write, but I’ll play the hand that I’ve been dealt and decide whether or not the Big Ten made the right decision.
As both writers alluded to, rivalries are an integral part of the college sports experience and they are very important to fans at all levels of athletics. Given that, I don’t think there is any way Big Ten leadership could have made a decision that would have pleased all the Michigan fans and/or all the Ohio State fans, let alone college football fans around the country that look forward to the Michigan-Ohio State tilt every season. However, my verdict is not allowed to say “They were hosed either way, so officials did the best they could.”
Bleacher Fan makes some interesting arguments as to why the Big Ten’s decision to put Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions was the wrong one. He thinks the Big XII’s model, to put its historic rivals in the same division, is the way to go. His best point brings up the possibility that Ohio State and Michigan could meet in the last week of the regular season in a completely meaningless, vanilla game because they know they’ll be matched up against each other the following week in a meaningful conference championship game. While any big-time, historic rivalry will probably always have a bit of fire in it, several consecutive years of back-to-back Ohio State-Michigan games would wear on the teams, fan bases, pundits, and recruits.
However, Bleacher Fan loses me when he writes about “an Ohio State-Michigan game for all the marbles.” Perhaps it would be for all marbles in the eyes of Ohio State and Michigan fans, but nationally it would probably, over time, devolve into a division championship game. Also, in the conference’s thinking, an Ohio State-Michigan “divisional championship” game might take the luster off the cash cow they hope the conference championship game will be for them. Bleacher Fan definitely made compelling arguments for and against his position.
Loyal Homer, true to his character, believes the Big Ten made the right decision in splitting its major rivals across divisions. He is a fan of the SEC model where care seems to have been taken to split nationally significant rivalries across divisions. He confirms the point inadvertently made by Bleacher Fan that putting your rivals in the same division can lead to a lackluster conference championship game, at least from a national standpoint. While this may seem like an insignificant issue to the fan bases of the two rival teams, in the grand scheme of conference alignment it may be the most important issue. He correctly points out that the Big XII championship game, in the eyes of many, is played in October between Texas and Oklahoma rather than in December.
This is a tough verdict. Honestly, I am not sure I like a lot of the consequences of conference realignment and I see and understand both arguments here. However, Loyal Homer wins the argument because history has dictated Ohio State and Michigan are often the two best teams in the Big Ten. If they can eliminate each other before the championship game, is there really any point to having a championship game at all? Congrats, Loyal Homer, and enjoy your prize – a pair of Denard Robinson’s shoelaces!