It’s a situation that previously
seemed impossible. Michigan is in a position where it could go
undefeated in conference play and not go to the Rose Bowl.
Actually, it could even win its final three games and not go to a
BCS bowl at all. Unless Wisconsin gets upset, the Wolverines are
going to have to hope for a loss or two out of Utah, Texas and
Tennessee, or they could be spending their winter break in Central
Florida.

Bob Hunt

The possibility of Michigan going 10-1 and ending up in the
Capital One Bowl is still remote with all the football left to be
played. But the fact that the possibility exists is troubling
because Michigan won’t be able to settle its conference fate
on the field.

Since the Big Ten has 11 teams, the conference is forced to
utilize a rotating schedule in which each team plays its
non-designated rivals six times out of every eight years. This
created a situation where winning the conference title has as much
to do with who you don’t play as who you do.

If Michigan and Wisconsin win out, the Big Ten will have split
champions who didn’t face each other during the regular
season for the fourth time in nine years. (The most recent was in
2002 when Ohio State and Iowa both finished 8-0 in the Big Ten.) So
which team is named the Big Ten’s BCS representative is often
decided by the conference’s second tie-breaker (overall
record), or even its third tie-breaker (who has had the longest
drought since being the conference representative in the Rose
Bowl).

For a sport like college football, where championships are
supposed to be decided on the field during the regular season, this
is a problem. While arguing who the best team in the nation might
be is part of what makes college football great, arguing who the
best team in the conference might be is not. Michigan and Wisconsin
have clearly established themselves as the best two teams in the
Big Ten this year, and we’ll never know how they would have
done against each other.

This problem has two solutions. The first would be to add two
conference games and have each Big Ten school play just one or two
nonconference games. This would never work though, because many
schools rely on scheduling the Eastern Michigans of the world each
year so that they can have six or seven home games. An expanded
conference schedule would make it impossible to do that. Thus,
there is just one solution:

Have the Big Ten add a 12th team and a conference
championship game.

Now, I know what some of you are saying: What about the
tradition of the Michigan-Ohio State game being for the Big Ten
title? While I realize the game is important, it’s also not
the 1970s anymore. Other schools (there was a time when Wisconsin
was a perennial doormat) have been able to put good teams together
and make a run at the Roses. And the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry
will mean something regardless of whether there is a game played in
the first weekend in December.

But what about the fact that the Big Ten would have to add a
12th member? The view of conference commissioner Jim Delany is that
the league is not interested unless the ideal situation comes
along, such as Penn State in 1993 and Notre Dame (or at least
that’s what conference officials thought) in 1999. But there
are many schools such as Missouri, Syracuse and Pittsburgh that
could possibly fit within the conference. And I’m guessing
Notre Dame would reconsider entering the conference if it knew it
would never have a chance again (the conference would never expand
beyond 12).

Another thing to consider is that the expansion of the ACC to 12
teams has forever changed the landscape of college football. While
the Big XII and SEC already had 12 teams, the addition of a third
major conference championship game makes it the norm. Now three of
the five biggest football conferences (not including the decimated
Big East) have conference championship games.

Sooner rather than later, rising athletic department costs will
force the conference to give into the estimated $500,000-plus
per-team payout that the game will provide. Heck, Michigan almost
slapped a name on the Michigan-Ohio State game for half that
much.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said two weeks ago that the ACC has
changed things significantly. He feels it is just a matter of time
before a 12th team is added to the conference.

“There is just too much money out there for it not to
happen,” Carr said.

But don’t get lost in the money. It’s about deciding
it on the field.

 

Bob Hunt can be reached at
“mailto:bobhunt@umich.edu”>bobhunt@umich.edu.

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