Big Ten splits up Michigan and Ohio State

Ralph D. Russo
Associated Press

that will go on permanently with Ohio State and Michigan State,” Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told The Associated Press. “We’ll play Ohio State in the last game of the regular season, following a tradition that has lasted for decades. And if we both earn the right, we can play the Buckeyes again in the Big Ten championship game.”

There was speculation the Michigan-Ohio State game could be pushed out of its end-of-season spot, maybe even into October. It sent some fans into an outrage and Delany said that was a factor in the final decision.

“We heard the fans, there’s no doubt about their voices mattered,” Delany said.

For years, the matchup known simply as “The Game” in Big Ten country has been the conference’s signature rivalry, one of the most storied and tradition-rich in all of sports. The Buckeyes and Wolverines have played 106 times since 1897.

Twenty-two times “The Game” has determined whether Ohio State or Michigan won the Big Ten championship.

Never was the rivalry more intense or more significant than from the late 1960s through the ’70s, when Ohio State coach Woody Hayes and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler waged what has been dubbed “the Ten-Year War.”

While “The Game” will never be the same since the title won’t be at stake in the regular season, the league is still banking on it to be a big deal. And then there’s the tantalizing possibility of even bigger TV ratings if the maize and blue meet the scarlet and gray in the league championship less than a month later.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for both programs to win divisions and be in the championship games,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said on the Big Ten Network, “and if we do play back to back, and if you look back over history quite frankly it’s rare that happens, if it does happen it’s great for fans.”

Delany said the Big Ten was not motivated to preserve the possibility of having Michigan and Ohio State, its two highest-profile programs, play in the new championship game.

“I’m convinced that whoever makes it, the championship is going to do a great (television rating),” he said. “I’m not worrying about repeats or Ohio State or Michigan.”

Michigan-Ohio State wasn’t the only tradition for Big Ten officials to consider. No conference has more trophy games than the Big Ten.

Longtime rivals such as Iowa and Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State, and Purdue and Indiana wound up in the same division. Wisconsin and Minnesota were split, but the Badgers and Gophers will be cross-divisional rivals and play each season.

That means Iowa can still square off each fall with Minnesota for Floyd of Rosedale, a bronze statue of a pig, and Minnesota and Michigan can now play for the Little Brown Jug every season.

The other cross-divisional rivalries will be: Nebraska and Penn State, pitting the Big Ten’s two newest members; Indiana and Michigan State, which play for the Brass Spittoon; and Iowa and Purdue; and in-state rivals Illinois and Northwestern.

Rivalries that took a hit were Iowa and Wisconsin, which play for the Heartland Trophy, and Penn State and Michigan State, which play for the Land Grant Trophy.

AP Sports Writers Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, Mich., Eric Olson in Omaha, Neb., and Andrew Seligman in Chicago, and Associated Press Writer David Merce in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.

Sept. 1, 2010