Fr-enemies – Can you root for your rival??

Written Ramblings by DJ

Big Ten fans outside of Ann Arbor will miss having Rich Rod around.

I was at Duffy’s, a Michigan bar in Lakeview about two years ago to watch Michigan – Notre Dame with my wife.  We were there two hours before kickoff to get a table and the packed bar already had something to celebrate.  A top 20 ranked Michigan State team was about to lose to Eastern Michigan.  I didn’t quite understand this behavior.  Traditional Big Ten powers such as Michigan and Penn State were going through a rough patch.  The Buckeyes were holding steady on cruise control as usual but they were about to lose to USC that weekend.  The conference needed other teams to step up and Sparty was one of the designated teams to pick up the slack.  Why is this group of Michigan obsessed alumni rooting against a fellow Big Ten team especially during their own tough patch?

Most of the Big Ten loved destroying Rich Rod’s squad during the conference season after years of dominance.  Part of me doesn’t blame them for that.  Conference seasons are about payback.  For my math nerd friends, rivalries are almost “path dependent.”  Lloyd Carr of Michigan dominated John Cooper/Ohio State for years in the mid to late 90s.  After Tressel took over, payback was on because he owned Carr and Rodriguez.  Hoke might repeat the trend again over the next few years.  But for rest of the conference sans Wisconsin or Penn State, the payback was not always there.  So when Michigan couldn’t figure out how to stop any team from racking up 500 yards on them, everybody in the Big Ten feasted on them; especially in Ann Arbor.  But this hurt the overall state of the conference.

Votes matter a big deal in College Football.  The voters (coaches and media) have jobs that demand 60-70 hours a week so they can’t watch every single game or follow every single team.  Voters can be analogous to fund analysts who rate certain stocks.  They tend to focus on the Sector (e.g. Retail, Banking) rather than every single stock.  If a sector’s demand is on the rise, then most of the firms within the sector will get a good recommendation.  The sector’s rating also depends heavily on how the big hitters perform.  If a big bank isn’t doing well, it can hurt the sector and the mid to smaller firms’ stock prices will tend to drop despite their individual performance.  Power conferences are similar to Sectors.   Each conference’s image depends on its big name programs.  Don’t be shocked, the media does not always recognize the emerging programs of any conference unless they put together seven to eight consistent seasons.  If you want proof, turn on NBC on Saturdays to figure out why a team that has not won a Bowl Game in over 15 years still has their own network.  In the Big Ten, the powerhouses include Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State (until Paterno is around).  Even though the Badgers whip up consistent winning seasons, they are still considered a sideshow on a national scale.

These conference ratings (or sector ratings) have a monetary impact for a current season and the future.  The monetary impact comes in the form of how they are ranked.  If there are two teams with identical records, the voters (or fund analysts) will be a biased in their vote towards the conference that has a better overall rating.  This is bound to happen so don’t hate the player here; that’s just how the game works.  Wisconsin went 11-1 three years ago but they were ranked below Auburn who had a similar record.  Badgers handed it to them on New Year’s Day in the Capital One Bowl.  Urban Meyer should not have been even eligible to play in the first BCS championship b/c Michigan deserved to be there.  But the Gators nudged Michigan in BCS rankings preventing another Michigan – Ohio State showdown for the NC game.  Yes, the BCS takes into account strength of schedule but it also takes into the account the same polls that rank these teams subjectively.  We can argue who had a tougher schedule – Michigan or Florida but the votes still matter.  If Big Ten had a more impressive image than the SEC, I’d like to argue that Chris Leak and Tim Tebow would have never even had a chance to pummel Ohio State.  They certainly did embarrass Ohio State but we’ll save that for another day.

The conference ratings clearly impact recruiting.  A high school sophomore would much rather go to a middle of the pack SEC team such as Arkansas over a fourth or fifth best team in the Big Ten such as Iowa.  You expect the Wolverines and Buckeyes to recruit based on their history but an average team ought to want those legendary programs to stay up so they can get the 3-4 star recruits consistently.  That is why Michigan and Penn State need to come back to prominence in order for Illinois or Northwestern to continue recruiting the 3 star recruits.  And when Michigan is down, they better hope that the rest of the conference is picking up the slack.  The SEC – Big Ten record matters.  How the Big Ten teams perform in the non conference schedule matters especially when they get knocked off by a heavy underdog.  That’s the only way Northwestern and Iowa will get their due as one of the handful of teams with a winning bowl record against the SEC teams over the last five years.  That’s the only way Camp Randall will get its due for possibly surpassing Happy Valley as the toughest place to play a night game in the country.  But as long as Penn State gets their a@$ kicked (they will against Alabama this weekend), the media would rather talk about the downfall of a great program rather than emerging one such as Wisconsin.

I see no reason why Michigan fans should love Michigan State’s losses to Eastern Michigan.  I get it, they are rivals.  Rivalries are the bread and butter of the game so I don’t suggest turning it down.  But save that for the conference season.  During non conference season, the Big Ten fan regardless of their background ought to root for all the other eleven teams.  That’s why I care how Minnesota performs against USC despite being 24 point dogs.  That’s why I am happy that Northwestern continues to beat the average teams from other conferences such as Boston College despite losing their star quarterback.  That’s why I don’t want Ohio State to be down for too long.  The same applies to Indiana basketball (definitely worth another rant).

It is frustrating to see Michigan fans root against Michigan State in the non conference season or any Wisconsin fan that is happy for Ohio State to be in the dirt.  It is similar to Michael Corleone telling Fredo in Vegas “Fredo, I love you. But never take sides against the family.”  “Family” might be a big word to use but we need to stand up for Big Ten against other conferences and this will carry our own team further down the road.  We can all be rivals in during the conference season but against a team from another conference; we don’t need to be friends but we can at least be fr-enemies.  Fre-enemies are friends but there are certainly some differences between them.  I am going to Ann Arbor for Michigan – San Diego St this year but I would NEVER wear yellow (yea yea, I know it is “maize”).  I would root for Ohio State to suffer during the Big Ten season this year but there is no way I want them to lose to a depleted Miami squad this weekend!  So most of the fans from this great conference need to be like Lindsey Lohan and Rachel McAdams from Mean Girls and be fre-enemies during non conference and post season.  That’s all we have as Big Ten fans to stand up against the mighty SEC.  Or we can do something else … we can pay them more than the southern schools.  That might do the trick.

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