Ordinarily, I make a point of not really caring what the Big Ten does, but Dr. Saturday recently reported a news item that I actually deem relevant, albeit in a roundabout way. Writes the Doc:
The Buckeyes and Wolverines will go on every year, regardless of whether or not they remain in the same division, or whether or not the league eventually expands the conference slate from eight to nine games. As for the timing, though, it seems the game's familiar place at the end of the regular season schedule – an unbroken ritual for both teams since 1935 – is less of a priority, according to the Columbus Dispatch. . . .
Today, the Dispatch reports the prospect of a rematch may be the deciding factor: If they're slated into the same division, without the possibility of a rematch a week or two later, the traditional position at the end of the regular season should be safe. If they wind up in opposite divisions, however, with the championship game calling both in December, the regular-season date could be moved up to mitigate the obvious complaints – "Hey, didn't we just beat these guys? Now we have to beat them again for the championship?" – that would come with the quick turnaround.
By itself, the potential for that kind of dissonance should be reason enough to nix any possibility of a rematch. If it also means moving the traditional culmination of the season to mid-October for the sake of a few extra eyeballs on the Big Ten title game – a blockbuster that should sell out and dominate television ratings regardless of which two widely-followed, state-sponsored behemoths happen to win their way into it in any given year – it's even more of a no-brainer.
To recap, teams are allowed to move their usual season-ending showdowns when conference alignments affecting them both change. I mention this because, now that we are on the eve of the season, it is time once more for me to renew my lobbying effort to move the Georgia Tech game from the end of the Georgia schedule. For the benefit of those of you who may be unfamiliar with my argument, here is the gist of it:
I don't like playing Georgia Tech at the end of the year. I never have. It assigns to the Engineers a level of importance I simply don't think they warrant. They're not an SEC rival any longer; Bobby Dodd is the name on the stadium, not the coach on the sidelines; they've been reduced from rolling up eight-game winning streaks over us to snapping our seven-game winning streaks over them. We're 29-12 against them in my lifetime, and that's giving them credit for the three games in the late 1990s featuring multiple ineligible athletes and two egregiously blown officiating calls on late fumbles. Much like their insect mascot, they're more of an annoyance than an actual threat. They ain't that big a deal.
The Ramblin' Wreck never once occupied the final spot on the Georgia slate before 1927, more than a third of a century after the Red and Black began playing football, and the Golden Tornado did not become a permanent fixture at the end of the schedule until 1953, the year after the Classic City Canines celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of our football program. Georgia Tech is not Georgia's traditional season-ending rival---Auburn is---and it's high time we dispensed with the Yellow Jackets early and moved on to more important rivals. Frankly, we have bigger fish to fry.
Since I wrote that, the Red and Black’s record against the Ramblin’ Wreck has improved to 30-12 since my birth, so you’ll pardon me if the rivals I emphasize come clad in orange rather than yellow. Naturally, I understand that several devoted Bulldog fans feel differently, but surely no one would argue that Georgia-Georgia Tech is more of a fixture at the end of the regular season than Michigan-Ohio State. If there is nothing sacrosanct about keeping the yearly smackdown between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines at the conclusion of the autumn slate, though, why should the annual affray between the Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets be any different?
As with Georgia-Georgia Tech, Michigan-Ohio State is far from ancient as a season-ending rivalry game. The Maize and Blue had capped off their regular slates against Chicago, Cornell, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn, Princeton, Syracuse, Toronto, and Wisconsin, inter alia, ere they ever ended a fall against the Buckeyes in the Wolverines’ 39th season of fielding a varsity football squad. In 1935, when Michigan and Ohio State began their continuous run of season-ending meetings, the two teams were meeting in the final game of the campaign for just the second time. Before that, the Bucks had finished off the season against Iowa, Michigan State, and Minnesota once each, against Indiana thrice, against Northwestern four times, against Kenyon College (which is more famous for its association with John Crowe Ransom than for its football team) twelve times, and against Illinois 14 times (all in the 15 years from 1919 to 1933).
In short, there is a lot of history---even a lot of Big Ten conference history---that precedes the placement of the Michigan-Ohio State game at the conclusion of each team’s schedule, so it should shock exactly no one that the league’s second expansion in a 20-year period may restore the status quo ante 1935. The corollary to that is this:
Georgia ended the season against Georgia Tech for the first time in 1927, nearly a decade after Michigan ended the season against Ohio State for the first time. Notwithstanding the 2001 aberration as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Georgia permanently placed Georgia Tech at the end of the Bulldogs’ schedule in 1953, nearly two decades after Michigan permanently placed Ohio State at the end of the Wolverines’ schedule.
Our in-state rivalry has less history as a season-ending showdown than the Big Ten border war. If they can move their game, we can move ours. The case for doing so is especially compelling, in light of the relative degrees to which circumstances have changed in both series since both became locked in at the end of the schedule.
For all the sturm und drang that went on this summer, the Big Ten is a remarkably stable league. Eight of the eleven current members joined the conference prior to the turn of the 20th century, and Nebraska is about to become the second new member admitted after 1950 and the third after 1912. The pace of growth in the Midwestern athletic association since Michigan and Ohio State agreed to knock heads in late November every year has been glacial. (Insert your "SEC speed!" joke here.)
The same cannot be said for the situation in the South since the Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets made ending the autumn against one another an annual thing. In the last half-century, two teams have left the SEC and two more have joined, Georgia Tech has tried life as a football independent and subsequently joined the ACC, and the transition from conference rivals to non-conference rivals has been made more challenging for Georgia and Georgia Tech alike by the expanding of their respective leagues to twelve teams arrayed in two divisions.
Michigan and Ohio State have never ended a season against each other except as conference rivals; Georgia and Georgia Tech last clashed as league foes on the Saturday after John F. Kennedy’s funeral. Midwestern football has undergone incremental adjustments which may necessitate this move; Southern football has changed dramatically since "clean old-fashioned hate" became a Thanksgiving fixture for reasons no longer relevant to the world in which we are living.
With whom would we replace the Yellow Jackets on the final Saturday of the season? My preference would be Auburn; the Plainsmen are the Bulldogs’ oldest rival, against whom the Red and Black closed out the season 18 times in the first 23 years of Georgia football. If folks would like to go out of conference, I’d be happy with Clemson; five times in their history, the Country Gentlemen have ended their campaign against the Athenians, with four of those clashes taking place on Thanksgiving Day. (I love Georgia/Auburn/Clemson rivalry trivia!)
The more likely and probably better course, though, would be for the ‘Dawgs to wrap up their regular-season slate against an SEC East opponent. Let Tennessee decide whether it is more important for the Volunteers to close out the campaign against Kentucky or Vanderbilt, and let Georgia square off with whichever one the Big Orange doesn’t choose. Let South Carolina go back to playing Clemson earlier in the year---"Big Thursday" matched the Palmetto State combatants in a midseason weekday contest from 1896 until 1959, and the two teams did not face off in a season-ender before 1962---and let us get the Gamecocks during their November swoon instead of during their early surge. Let Florida face Florida State sooner on the slate---the Saurians and the Seminoles met in September or October on eleven occasions between 1960 and 1976---and move the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party to a holiday weekend. Any of those options would elevate the importance of the Bulldogs’ final game, which would count in the conference standings and could determine whether Georgia wins the East. Better to end the regular season playing for a trip to Atlanta than playing in Atlanta, I say.
For the love of all things holy, though, let’s quit giving the Yellow Jackets pride of place on our schedule. Get that game out of the way earlier so we can focus on our Southeastern Conference slate. If Michigan and Ohio State can bump their contest to an earlier date, so can Georgia and Georgia Tech. The timing would be cleaner, more old-fashioned, and just as fueled as we need it to be with hate.