At the risk of sounding like Debbie Downer...
...it's official. The Game is dead.
Oh, it will still be played every year, and thanks to the eight gazillion emails and phone calls from angry sports fans, it will still be played the final week of the regular Big Ten season, but The Game will never be the same.
Due to a lot of thinking by people who get paid a lot to think, and in response to the massive wads of cash waived in said people's faces, the Big Ten added a 12th member (Nebraska), split the conference into two divisions and added a shiny new title game. Tradition be damned, there is a lot of money to be made!
So now the Big Ten commish, a certain Jim Delany, and the conference presidents have placed Ohio State and Michigan in separate divisions. Why? I have no idea, other than their collective minds are still locked into the year 2006.
You remember the year 2006, don't you? It was the magical year of rivalry destiny, the year which saw both Ohio State and Michigan remain undefeated going into The Game, with one team ranked a unanimous number one and the other team left with ugly yellow stripes on their helmets. The game was a heavyweight bout, with not only the Big Ten title on the line but a trip to the national title game as well.
The Bucks leapt to a commanding lead but Michigan slowly closed the gap. Finally, at the very end, Troy Smith lead the Bucks down the field with the go-ahead score thrown to Roy Hall. Time over, game over, and Ohio State went on to get creamed by Florida in the title game. Ahem.
But remember the talk? Remember how a lot of people thought there should be a rematch in Arizona? THAT is what Delany and his blue-blood ilk remember. They recall the 28.1 million viewers that watched the '06 Game, they can still taste the thrill of being commanders of that great spectacle, and all the while not knowing or caring that The Game was so much more than television revenue.
They want to recreate that majesty as often as possible. If lots of people tune into the regular season version, then think how many will watch a rematch for the actual Big Ten title!
And there, as the Bard once noted, is the rub. The Game has lost all meaning because what really matters is what is decided in Indianapolis the very next week. What was once a bloody bare-knuckles brawl has been reduced to a scratching match.
Let's assume that both OSU and that other team are going into the contest (formally know as The Game) with the foreknowledge that both teams have locked up their respective divisions and will meet each other in the title game. Why are they still playing this now meaningless game? What is their motivation? Okay, team A lost this week, but if they win the next one, than team A will still head for Pasadena. Or New Orleans or whatever BCS bowl game.
The football Big Ten has just become like their basketball brethren, in that the post season play counts as much, if not more, than the regularseason. Oh, it won't happen next year, or even for a while, but as the seasons progress and The Game slowly starts to lose it's importance, then players from both sides will begin to see it as "a" game instead of "The" game. That urgency, that knowledge that if you have only one year left, this is your last go and you better make it count.
It is like Delany and co. are the Admiral Ackbar at the Battle of Endor, and at the first sign of defeat, wish to pull back and try it again some other time. I am like Lando, who understands that there will be only one shot at this. (Star Wars reference-deal with it.) Lost this time? We'll get 'em in 7-10 days!
Maybe the new tradition can be to pass out Bronze Pants for the first game and Gold Pants for the second one.