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Big Ten brewing its own version of New Coke

August 29, 2010
By ED PUSKAS Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor

When Barack Obama promised to fundamentally change America, it was not clear he meant putting Ohio State and Michigan in separate divisions in a revamped, expanded Big Ten Conference.

OK, even Glenn Beck couldn't conceive of a way to connect the dots and blame Obama for that bad idea. But it still could happen.

When the Big Ten realigns for the 2011 season, the Buckeyes and Wolverines - who collectively make up the best rivalry in sports - could be in different divisions.

Ohio State and Michigan still would play every year under that scenario, but The Game would move from November to perhaps October, when it would be as important as the next Indiana-Minnesota game.

The Game would be just another game.

Blasphemy. You just don't mess with the sacred. Did someone slip Big Ten officials some New Coke or perhaps something stronger?

Ohio State-Michigan is the fantastic finish. It is the piece de resistance of the season for anyone who ever actually wore scarlet and gray or maize and blue on a Saturday afternoon, and anyone who just liked to fantasize about it.

It belongs in November, nestled against Thanksgiving the way it always has been.

The Big Ten, however, would like its signature programs in opposite divisions because of the possibility of the Buckeyes and Wolverines meeting in the new conference championship.

The Big Ten is late to the conference title game party, but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea. The Big Ten was right to modernize by going to divisions and joining most other major conferences in holding a conference championship game. Its regular season always seemed to end too soon as its teams - even the best of them - often were overshadowed by teams that played later in November or into December.

It was a mistake to resist the move to a conference title game for so long. Some changes really are good. But moving The Game is going too far.

Ohio State-Michigan is the one great thing the Big Ten has over every other conference. It is college football's version of The Masters, and might be even more steeped in tradition.

If Big Ten officials can't understand that, maybe they can understand this:

You don't mess with your brand. You don't screw up the one thing you do better than everybody else. Coca-Cola learned that a generation ago.

The Buckeyes and Wolverines meeting on a Saturday afternoon in late November is the Big Ten's brand.

But if the goal is to be like every other conference, go ahead and turn The Game into just another game.



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