Jim Delany's Stance on Michigan-Ohio State Game Disrespectful
With those words, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany effectively negated the conference's recent expansion and pointed out that the number of teams in his league remains at two. There's Michigan, there's Ohio State, and there's the Not Quite Ready for Prime Time Players. Whether that latter group numbers nine or ten is irrelevant.
The commissioner was adamant that the two teams should be playing every season, but it's clear he wants them to meet in the championship game, and he doesn't want that game to be a repeat of a game played the week before.
Delany's job, as the Big Ten's commissioner, is to determine what's best for all the conference's schools. "Best" is a subjective concept, but increasingly it seems like what's best is measured in dollars.
In a way, it's hard to argue with him. Delany knows that the implications of an OSU-Michigan title game are huge. For better or worse, the Buckeyes and Wolverines are the two most valuable brands in the conference. Should they meet in the title game, sales representatives would punch each other in the face for the right to sell commercials. The windfall for the conference would be much bigger than if, say, Minnesota and Purdue were playing.
What Delany seems to be forgetting is why fans watch the games to begin with. It's not to find out about new products or services they can buy. The only value college football, or any other sport, has for the spectator is entertainment value. If your team wins a championship, that's great, but it doesn't make you taller, it doesn't improve your credit score, and it doesn't even make your breath smell minty fresh.
Entertainment also explains why Delany is dead wrong when he says that Ohio State and Michigan shouldn't ever play with something as petty as a divisional title on the line. You need only look at the last decade or so of the Big 12's experience.
For most of that time, the Texas-Oklahoma game has been not only for the Big 12 South title but for that of the conference as a whole. A chance to play for the national title is usually at stake as well. The Big 12's champion has appeared in seven of the last ten national championship games. (The three other times were the years Ohio State played in that game.) Six of those seven times, the Big 12 champ has been the winner of the Texas-Oklahoma game.
But, of course, since they've only been playing for a divisional title, that's why those games have been so unbelievably dull. There's no intensity in them whatsoever, is there?
Delany's argument about separating Michigan and Ohio State holds as much water as a spaghetti strainer. You could just as easily make a good argument that Texas and Oklahoma, two of the Big 12's greatest teams with a long history between them, should never really be playing for a divisional crown. If they're going to play, play for the right to go to the BCS National Championship Game. You could also make a good argument that this is already happening.
If two teams are on the same elite level, their game will be a barn-burner no matter when it's played and no matter what is or is not at stake. For Delany to say that Michigan and Ohio State should only play with the conference title on the line not only shows a lack of respect for the rest of the Big Ten, it shows a lack of respect for the fans. Fans want to see the best teams play each other, not necessarily the most popular teams.
The biggest danger of Delany's comments is found in the possibility that the league might unbalance its divisions in order to favor a Michigan-Ohio State championship game. The Wolverines are down but won't be down forever. What of the teams that are up right now? Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska have varying degrees of a winning tradition. Over the last decade, the Wolverines have not been significantly better than any of those four teams, nor have they actually been on Ohio State's level.
There are only two reasons to think that Michigan and Ohio State should meet regularly for the Big Ten title. One is that you somehow think it's still 1974 and they're the only two good teams the Big Ten has. The other is that you want to make as much money as you possibly can off the conference championship game. What do you think Delany's reason is? I know which one I would pick.