Image Credit: TSL FIle
The last time there wasn’t an annual Big Ten clash between the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes was 1917.
"This decision is disappointing for our team and coaches but their health and safety is paramount, and it will always come first in our decision-making.” pic.twitter.com/IHXOD6lXyj
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) December 8, 2020
Actually, they didn’t play one another from 1913-17, with the Wolverines outside the conference during those years. The first game between these two current powerhouse programs was in 1897 and at that time the Buckeyes weren’t a member of the Big Ten.
They played every year from 1897-1912 with “Hail To The Victor” dominating the action going (12-0-2) in those first 14 matchups.
In 1912 Ohio State joined the conference as a member. Their first ever matchup as members of the Big Ten didn’t occur until 1918 with the Wolverines pitching a shutout (14-0). In 1919 the Buckeyes returned the favor, winning (13-3).
This annual clash has been played at the end of every season since 1935 except for the 1942, 1986 and 1998 seasons. Michigan has always hosted the game in odd years and Ohio State plays host in even years.
“The Shoe” (Ohio Stadium) home of the Buckeyes has hosted the game since 1922 and “The Big House” (Michigan Stadium) has hosted it since 1927. This rivalry runs deep and those in Columbus refer to their archrivals as “That Team Up North”.
They’ve clashed 116 times with the Wolverines leading the all-time series 58-51-6. The largest win in the series was an 86-0 Michigan win in 1902. The longest win streak for either school is nine held by the Wolverines (1901-1909). The Buckeyes have won 8 straight in the series (2012-2019) and were looking forward to evening it up.
From the 1970’s through the mid-2000’s this game determined the Big Ten Conference Champion and which team played in the “GrandDaddy Of Them All” (Rose Bowl). The matchup often influenced the outcome of the national college football championship. In 2000 it was ranked as the greatest “North American” sports rivalry.
In 2006 I personally had the pleasure of being at “The Shoe” as then #1 Ohio State beat them #2 Michigan 42-39 in what was billed as “The Game Of The Century”.
In recent years, the rivalry has been dominated by the Buckeyes as evidenced by their 8 game win streak and even with native son Jim Harbaugh at the helm the Wolverines haven’t faired well. When you take the job at either school you’re asked can and will you beat Michigan? Or can and will you beat Ohio State? That right there is the difference between keeping your job or not at either university.
Amidst the 1918 Spanish Flu (H1N1) which killed an estimated 50 million this rivalry still went on as scheduled after a dramatic change to travel plans which were changed among the entire conference to two 48 hour trips in the month of November 1918. That change would shift this annual meeting to the last game of the season for the first time ever. Crazy thing is, after this meeting these teams didn’t face-off at season’s end again until 1935.
Here in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, games all over college football have been either canceled or postponed and in August, with the pandemic threatening to wipe out another season of sports, the Big Ten even prematurely canceled its season.
But with the intense pressure from coaches, players and fans the conference decided to have a 9-game season in nine weeks which gave it no wiggle room for cancellations and postponements.
With the required 6 games needed to qualify for the Big Ten championship game they figured this was enough to get that done, and hopefully send a team to the College Football Playoff.
Now here’s where the dilemma lies within the conference.
The Buckeyes are (5-0) and clearly the “Cream Of The Crop” of the Big Ten led by Heisman candidate Justin Fields, but this Michigan cancellation makes it so they won’t have the required 6 games to play in the conference title game.
With Northwestern winning the Western division of the conference and Indiana at 6-1 (only loss 42-35 to Ohio State), the surprising Hoosiers would stand to represent the Eastern division of the conference unless the Buckeyes can get a replacement game or the board led by former Wisconsin HC Barry Alvarez (the leader of the “We Want To Play” movement) votes to change the 6-game requirement.
In contrast, the SEC and Big 12 began their seasons much earlier and gave their conferences plenty of wiggle room. Some will say Michigan is doing this because of its disdain for their archrival, but in the end it’s supposed to be about the health of the players.
One has to wonder what coaches like Bo Schembechler or Woody Hayes would say or do in a time like this. This is a stain on college football as a whole and in a year of unprecedented happenings unfortunately it’s not unexpected.
Now we see why Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, the first African-American to lead a Power 5 conference, originally canceled and moved the season to the spring. The decision reversal seems to have backfired a bit and now some are realizing that Warren’s original decision to cancel the season was really in the best interest of the players.