To Hell With Tradition, I Guess

It continues to mystify me that some fans are OK with the notion of moving the Ohio State-Michigan game from the final weekend of the regular season.

In case you haven’t heard, this appears to be a fait accompli as the expanded Big Ten splits into six-team divisions. There is no official word yet, but from what can be gleaned from the comments made by head coaches and athletic directors from the respective schools, The Game will soon become just another game somewhere on the conference schedule.

Frankly, I don’t know what to say to those who either shrug this off or think it’s a good idea. They argue tradition sometimes must bow to progress. That may be true in technology or business, but not in athletics. There is a reason why the New York Yankees have been wearing pinstripes for nearly a century. There is a reason why the Montreal Canadiens have used the same logo since 1917. And there is a reason why Ohio State and Michigan have played one another in the final game of the regular season since 1935.

Tradition.

Despite what ESPN seems to believe, tradition isn’t just something made up on the fly. It isn’t the product of something discussed around a conference table. It is built over time, passed down through the generations.

There is no doubt that television and the revenue it generates helped The Game become what it is today. I will concede the rivalry has grown exponentially over the past 40 years thanks to an ever-growing media presence. But I will contend that had the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry not become such a compelling brand – not only for the Big Ten but for all of college football – television and its attention-deficit-riddled fans would have gone in search of something else long ago.

I will also argue that a huge part of the reason why The Game continues to attract such attention is because it is played at the end of the season. Since it was placed at the end of the schedule, more often than not the game has decided the Big Ten title and the resulting Rose Bowl match-ups not to mention the outcome of countless national championships.

Putting the game at the end of the regular season provides drama that nowhere else on the schedule can match. There is little doubt the rivalry will retain much of its regional intensity among fans, but the emotion attached to The Game will diminish especially if it is played early in the season – or as some have ridiculously suggested as the Big Ten opener for both teams.

Anyone knows that an early-season loss doesn’t necessarily knock a team out of the national championship picture. Lose late, however, and it’s nearly impossible to get back in the national title hunt. Anticipation is another of the great things about the OSU-Michigan game. Each team must go through the other to make their season. Even in the rare occurrences when a championship is not on the line, a victory in The Game is the highlight of any season and serves as a springboard to recruiting and the following season.

I understand this is going to happen and nothing I say or think will change that. Money is king and to hell with tradition. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, Ohio State and Michigan will be playing a night game in late September or early October.

No one said I had to be happy about it.

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