I intended the adventure to be focused on the tradition inherent to college football. I wanted to know why it was so much more important to us than for fans of other sports. But after just a few games, I realized that tradition wasn’t as coveted as I thought it was. It got a whole lot of lip service, but fans had short memories, and their worldview was often not aligned with their stated respect for tradition. This surprised and disappointed me. I learned that for most fans, the desire to fully embrace tradition will always be overwhelmed by devotion to the program. This is true even if it requires self-delusion. We have always been at war with Eastasia.
So it was that one of the overarching themes of my trip became the inherent battle between tradition and progress. They are diametrically opposed, especially as it relates to this wonderful sport. The battle kept surfacing, whether it was Bowls versus Playoffs, SEC fans rooting for their bitterest rivals in bowl games, or students tacking a “Go Blue!” onto the end of “The Victors.” (This still feels appallingly wrong to me.) Even my choice to save time by speeding along Interstate 40 instead of leisurely getting my kicks on Route 66 showed that progress often has its place.
But my goodness, there are limits. If the reports are true, it is 80% certain that Michigan and Ohio State will be placed in separate divisions, and probably play in the middle of the season. Doc Saturday has clearly outlined all the reasons this is stupid, so I won’t even get into the rationale. Stupid is the word. Stupid beats out ill-conceived, reckless, or any other depressing word you want to apply. This is a stupid, stupid idea.
These men agree. With each other.
So what’s the big deal? Plenty of important people do stupid things all the time. As I said, tradition in college football is sadly overrated and becoming more so every year. And as much as many fans may dislike this erosion, they accept it because it’s still the best game in the world. But there are bridges too far. If the bloggers are any indication of where fans stand, the followers of Michigan and Ohio State are presenting a united front. For the core fans, there’s no question this stupid decision will sour them. For the casual ones (read: incremental dollars), the only benefit is that rare and surely elusive rematch, a meager benefit that will be more than balanced out by The Game no longer being The Game.
There’s something really big at stake here. The decision has not yet been made official. Every other change we’ve seen, at least you could argue both sides for fans and players alike. The fans have spoken clearly this time. Not all change is good, especially when it’s stupid. But will anybody care what we have to say? Will anyone actually listen? Are they not only poised to make a stupid decision, but ignore those who have tried desperately to set them straight? The Big Ten fashions itself to be the conference of stalwart tradition, keeping the Rose Bowl stashed away in its favorite jewelry box, not to be shared. Yet, what greater tradition is there than The Game? If the fans will not be listened to now, they will never be listened to about anything. This is the most extreme case we will ever see. This is a litmus test for the sport. Does tradition matter in the slightest? If Delaney moves The Game, then it is dead, and we might as well start having fanstasy drafts and Budweiser hot seats and “He Hate Me” on the backs of uniforms.
Seriously, this is the guy in charge. OK, well maybe he just looks like him.
What I finally discovered was that my big road trip was not about blind devotion to all things sacred. It was about what makes us fans in the first place. That’s a much longer conversation (you can read the book if I ever finish it). The gist of it is that we get to go back to college a few Saturdays a year. And we like going back to college because it was one of the greatest times in our lives. We adore The Game, even when it treats us badly, because it has given us the highest of highs and the lowest of lows but rarely anything in between. It is supreme, thrilling victory, or utter devastation. Every year. This result simply cannot happen in October.
Regarding the importance of tradition, I eventually found acceptance and embraced the difference between me and (some of) you. And, much later, Lloyd Carr even convinced me that we should have a playoff. Perhaps I’m not such a nostalgic codger after all. I’ve come around a bit. Really, I have. Go ahead, kids. Play in my yard. Just try not to burn down my fucking garage while you’re at it.
Other voices from the choir:
Brian talks sense
Ramzy correctly puts things in perspective
M-Zone comes out of retirement!
Add your name to the Facebook page here. It's (quite literally) the least you can do.
UPDATE: Some useful e-mail addresses here. Send a courteous note or sit on your hands. Don't mail theses people a dickish rant just 'cause I deployed the f-word (HT: M-zone):
Dave Brandon (U-M AD): DABran@umich.edu
Gene Smith (OSU AD): Smith.firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Sue Coleman (U-M President): PresOff@umich.edu
Gordon Gee (OSU President): Gordon.Gee@osu.edu
Jim Delany (Big 10 Commissioner): JDelany@bigten.org