The SBC Michigan-Ohio State Classic?
That’s right. The greatest rivalry in college sports almost
got a sponsor. As part of a proposed deal with SBC, the University
of Michigan and Ohio State University would have received $530,000
over the next two years. Fortunately, both schools announced
Wednesday they would not participate. The University’s
decision to pull out comes as a relief to Michigan fans because it
preserves the tradition of Michigan football and rejects the
excessive sponsorship of college athletics.

Angela Cesere

The tradition of Michigan football is an institution in and of
itself. As anyone who read the 2003 Michigan football shirt knows,
the Wolverines have the most wins in college football history, the
most conference titles, 11 national titles and the largest football
stadium in the United States, the Big House. The Big House itself
is a testament to the Michigan tradition: There are no
advertisements within the stadium, no luxury boxes or even
fold-down chairs. After the University spent $500,000 to put up the
gaudy “halo” around the stadium, it had to spend more
than $100,000 to take it down when alumni rejected it. Michigan
fans have come to respect and love a tradition that focuses on the
game, the players and the rivalries, not the peripherals.

College athletics are increasingly commercialized, and while
stadiums themselves are not yet fully sponsored, many games are.
The four biggest bowl games in collegiate football, which compose
the Bowl Championship Series, are all individually sponsored. The
New Year’s Day Rose Bowl game, which holds a special place
for the University and the Big Ten as a whole, is not merely the
Rose Bowl, but the Rose Bowl presented by Citibank. The Red River
Shootout, a rivalry game between Oklahoma and Texas, has already
fallen victim to SBC sponsorship. To many, it may seem relatively
insignificant that the deal between Michigan and Ohio State was
broken off. However, the University’s decision to back out of
the deal, at a very minimum, helps slow the inexorable rise in
corporate sponsorship of collegiate athletics.

Some have expressed regret that the University failed to seal
the SBC deal. The money behind the deal was enough to entice either
of the Universities. It is very likely that the extra money could
have pushed down ticket costs or improved athletic facilities at
large. However, these interests are not worth the tradeoff: the
cheapening of the University’s greatest athletic rivalry. In
rejecting SBC’s self-serving offer, the University has
ensured that the Michigan-Ohio State game will be played as it has
traditionally been played, with a focus on athletes and fans, not
corporate interests.

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