Fans complicated Big Ten growing painsWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As I opened my personal e-mail account the other day, one message in particular stood out as I was scrolling through my e-mail. The subject of the e-mail was “A Special Message from Gene Smith.” The sender, of course, was The Ohio State University Athletics Department.
My mind wandered for a while about what this special message could be until I started reading.
The topic of Smith’s email was reassuring fans that there had been no decision made of the date of the Ohio State-Michigan game. At the time, there were still a lot of unknowns that went along with conference expansion.
The catalyst for all of the ill will from fans was Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee’s comments to the press, stating he would like to see Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions so they could play in a Big Ten championship game.
The university president wasn’t alone.
Michigan athletics director David Brandon stated a similar notion. He had been quoted by several different media sources saying he thinks nothing would be better than a chance to play Ohio State twice in a season. Once, of course, would be the regular season matchup, and then a possibility that the next contest would be for a Big Ten title and a trip to Pasadena.
The fan revolt didn’t stop at Gene Smith’s email inbox.
There was a Facebook group created called Don’t Mess with the Ohio State/Michigan Game with more than 10,000 fans begging and pleading to leave the annual rivalry game alone.
When Nebraska was added as the Big Ten’s 12th member this past summer, it was evident things were going to have to change.
The anger was quelled a bit Sept. 1 when the new divisional lineups were announced. One division will house Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern and Minnesota, and the other will hold Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois.
Big Ten officials also announced an annual divisional crossover game in football so that rivalries like Ohio State-Michigan will be played every year, and it looks like “The Game” will stay in its end of November spot — at least for the next two years anyway.
The fans kicking and screaming forced the Big Ten to waffle under the immense pressure. Many celebrated it as a victory for fans everywhere, but I do not see it that way.
Unfortunately, the fans never understood that there was never going to be a perfect solution to appease everyone, and no matter what the conference did, someone would be unhappy. The decisions that were made Sept. 1 took into account the whole conference because the Big Ten is more than just Ohio State and Michigan.
The fan reaction was like that of a child, throwing a tantrum when they did not get their way.
There has been a standing consensus nationally that Big Ten football is stuck in the stone age of college football. Other conferences are on the cutting edge while the Big Ten is not. The expansion helped change that perception and vaulted the conference into modern football.
But the fans’ reaction these past few weeks proved then even as the Big Ten tries to evolve, the fans may never let it happen.
This situation was not about purposely breaking a tradition.
To me, it was always about moving forward.
It was about growing. It was and still is about moving towards the future of college football.
It was these angry fans, who are stuck in time and averse to change, that have held back the conference and its football programs from evolving.
It was time to embrace the future, Buckeye and Wolverine fans. It was time to stop being a collective wet blanket and accept the inevitable change.
With the conference expansion, here was that opportunity. I just can’t help and wonder when will these fans shake their “3 yards and a cloud of dust” mentality?
Chris Schmidbauer is sports editor for Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com. He also can be heard every Friday at 11 AM on the Odd Couple Sports Show on Fox Sports Radio 1230 WCWA.