Two weeks before most students came to campus, the Athletic Department made an interesting announcement. The Michigan football team would open up the 2006 season against Ball State – at home. This meant that the all-important game against the mighty Chippewas of Central Michigan would have to be pushed back a week.
Does this seem wrong to anybody else? It seems disappointing that, when talking scheduling at Michigan, the teams we are discussing as big additions to our nonconference schedule are Central Michigan and Ball State.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how Northern Illinois was a very good team. And the truth is that Eastern Michigan isn’t bad either – seriously, the Eagles aren’t as bad as they may have seemed in laying an egg at the Big House.
But I believe everyone in Ann Arbor would love to see a game like the one last week in Columbus – Texas at Ohio State under the lights. Man, was that a great college football game. It was at night. It was hyped. The crowd was excited, and the game was intense.
Next year, Ohio State will visit Texas for a shot at revenge. The Buckeyes haven’t announced their entire 2008 schedule yet, but we do know that they will go to Los Angeles to play the dominant Southern Cal Trojans – winners of the last two national championships. It’s clear that Ohio State is a team that isn’t afraid of the big game.
It’s hard to argue that Michigan should schedule tougher teams. On Sept. 10, the Wolverines lost to Notre Dame, and I can’t remember the last time the team made it out of the nonconference season undefeated – it certainly hasn’t happened since I’ve been here. Notre Dame is scheduled through 2011, so contending for a national championship won’t get any easier.
“The problem is how that fits in in an era where we have the BCS, which means that, if you want to have a chance to win the national championship, don’t lose a game,” coach Lloyd Carr said at Big Ten Media Day in August. “So each institution has to decide if that team is worth risking. There are a lot of schools out there that aren’t going to risk playing a nonconference game like that because of fear that it will cost them a chance at a national championship.”
But after both Michigan and Ohio State lost last week, who fell further in the rankings? Which team is still in the running for the Rose Bowl? Not to mention that the Buckeyes are probably now better prepared for the rest of the season than Michigan is.
If it’s true that Michigan is doing its best to win a national championship, then fine. I’m all for winning a national championship.
But I’m not convinced that’s the motivation behind scheduling easy opponents – at least not all of it. The Athletic Department at Michigan runs an operating budget somewhere in the range of $90 million a year – and nearly all of that money comes from football revenue. Two years ago, Michigan raked in about $1 million a game – and I can only imagine that the school gets even more now. I can’t help thinking it’s just about the money.
I don’t have any evidence. There’s no Deep Throat behind the scenes telling me that this is true. But think about it logically. If the Wolverines were to play a Texas or a Southern Cal, they would have to agree to a game on the road every other year. That’s a lot of cash down the drain, and probably something the Athletic Department wouldn’t allow. Even Carr admitted on Saturday that financial concerns play a big part in scheduling teams like Eastern.
“I think the truth is, with 12 games coming, the opportunity to play Eastern, Central and Western is good for our state from a financial standpoint,” Carr said. “I’d much rather play schools from this state because I think it is better for people from the state of Michigan.”
Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois want to play Michigan. They want the exposure to a large audience – the Northern Illinois game was even on ABC. They are probably even interested in the small amount of money Michigan pays them to come to Ann Arbor – Eastern Michigan made about $430,000. Michigan Athletics can bully these small teams around and make them come to the Big House, and that’s more money for the University.
But it comes at the expense of what could be great games.
Ian Herbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.