For years, we heard that Michigan and Ohio State never would regularly play The Game after Thanksgiving. That will change this fall.
When the Big Ten added Nebraska in June and a divisional split seemed imminent, most folks (including me) thought there was little chance the Wolverines and the Buckeyes would end up on opposite sides of the league. This, too, has changed as we anxiously wait the division pairings to be announced.
If you're paying attention to the words coming out of both Columbus and Ann Arbor, you shouldn't be surprised if Michigan and Ohio State are placed in opposite divisions.
Athletic directors Gene Smith (Ohio State) and Dave Brandon (Michigan) both are preparing their respective fan bases for the Buckeyes and Wolverines to possibly move their rivalry game earlier in the season. The only reason this would happen is if the teams went in opposite divisions, creating the potential for a rematch in the Big Ten championship game. They would meet every year in a protected crossover game.
Brandon weighed in Friday morning on WTKA radio in Ann Arbor, and the blog MVictors has a good breakdown of theinterview.
When asked if he were making the decision, would he put Michigan and Ohio State in the same conference division, Brandon paused and then answered, "No." He continued: "We're in a situation where one of the best things that could happen in my opinion in a given season would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice, once during the regular season and once for the championship of the Big Ten."
On the Michigan-Ohio State game, Brandon said: "I think there's a distinct possibility that that game will be a later game in the season, but not necessarily the last game of the season. And that's simply because … I don't think the coaches, or the players, or the fans, or the networks or anyone, would appreciate that matchup to happen twice within the same seven-day period."
More from Brandon: "What you're really going to want is that last game of the regular season to really determine, often times, the championship -- who's going to be the champion of that division and go to the championship game and play for all the marbles. So from a scheduling/timing perspective, it’s a new ballgame, and although I love playing Ohio State in the last game of the year, I don't think it's necessarily a slam dunk that that's going to continue.
Translation: Get ready for Michigan-Ohio State in late October. Probably.
Smith was a little less direct in his comments this week to The Columbus Dispatch.
"I know one thing for sure -- that we're going to play [Michigan] every year," Smith said. "We may end up playing the last game of the year, or not. I just don't know that yet."
Smith said his one unshakable objective at the start of the realignment discussion was to assure that Ohio State and Michigan would play every year. There is no danger of that being threatened. Beyond that, Smith said it's wise to let the process play out, step by step, without trying to insist on further requirements.
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel added this at Big Ten media days when asked about The Game: "Where it will be in the future, I'm not sure. But I don't think it will ever change in its importance to the people that are involved in it, especially, what it means to all of them and all of us."
There are some obvious pros to splitting Ohio State and Michigan into two divisions.
Penn State could be paired with Ohio State or Michigan instead of Nebraska to keep a 2-2 split with the league's four biggest brands, which I believe is imperative no matter what the Big Ten decides.
There could be more of a geographical division split, which many fans seem to want. Michigan and Michigan State could go "West" and be in the same division with Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.
An Ohio State-Michigan clash in the Big Ten championship would be huge, regardless of what happened in the first meeting.
The big negatives relate to tradition and the importance of the first game. Will it mean as much in mid October as it does in late November? Also, splitting Ohio State and Michigan could actually decrease the number of blockbuster games that could be enhanced through protected crossovers.
I'm all for being more open-minded in the Big Ten, but I'm concerned about the potential ramifications here.
Just be prepared for this to happen.
When asked if he were making the decision, would he put Michigan and Ohio State in the same conference division? Brandon paused then answered. "No."