July 8, 2022
In these times it may seem silly to rant and sputter about something as trivial as football, especially since the season is still several weeks away. But if you’re a fan, stay tuned for my manifesto on the biggest outrage since the spot of the ball on 4th down in the second overtime of the 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game. (Trust me, it was a big deal. See for yourself.)
The madness is that the Big Ten, home to the Wolverines, Buckeyes, and a dozen other mostly midwestern schools, is expanding to include USC and UCLA, which are ditching the Pacific or Pac-12. Between this and the B1G’s previous addition of Rutgers and Maryland, the former heartland conference will stretch from Redondo Beach to the Jersey Shore.
You’re probably thinking, “So?” and you might be right. Realignment has become routine in recent years as the schools fight to the death for TV money. To me, though, this feels like the last nail in the coffin of the real Big Ten, which I’ve been watching for 50 years now. It might even open the gates for the end of college football as we know it.
I don’t care what the marketers and data geeks say: Geography-where you live and play the game-is the core of a team’s and a conference’s identity. The great coaches like Bear Bryant and Bud Wilkinson were revered for lifting the pride and profile of Alabama and Oklahoma, not for raising TV ratings halfway across the country.
The SEC’s plan to add Oklahoma and Texas might make regional sense. The Big Ten proposal is Frankenstein’s monster. It’s just the kind of sleaze that Trump or Zuckerberg would cook up: grab the cash box and screw everything else.
It’ll weaken if not kill traditional rivalries that bring people out in 30° temperatures and blowing snow. While Michigan vs. OSU will still be THE game, cherished trophies like the Little Brown Jug and the Old Oaken Bucket may end up in the flea market. The original Big Ten schools in places like Madison, Iowa City, Champaign-Urbana, and Columbus will become the Flyover Ten.
Maybe all this sounds archaic. Tell that to the guys slamming their bodies around in frozen mud in front of 70,000 screaming fans. I must say, I look forward to seeing two sunny California schools try to compete under those conditions.