Oller: Enough is enough. Keep Ohio State-Michigan football game where it is on schedule

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Rob OllerColumbus Dispatch0:028:53https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.583.1_en.html#goog_1206025414

College football traditions keep taking a beating, and I am tired of it. Tired of drawing a line in the sand only to watch those who ought to know better wipe it away with a crashing wave of “Oh well, things change.” 

The Ohio State-Michigan football game should never move off its traditional spot as the regular-season finale. Ever. That much should be obvious. But here we are again, with what seems obvious being obfuscated by “yes, but …”

I like Ryan Day. Good coach. Good guy. But he is wrong on this one. The Ohio State master planner said Wednesday that “It’s worth a long discussion when the game should be played.”

No, no, double-dang no.   

Jim Harbaugh amuses me in a “Can you believe this guy?” sort of way. But his heretical take on when the OSU-UM should be played – whenever, as long as they play – is anything but amusing.

Ryan Day says moving the Ohio State-Michigan to earlier in the season is worth discussion.

“We know we’re going to play it every season at least once. I don’t have a particular opinion on when it should be played,” Harbaugh said Thursday. 

Day grew up mistakenly calling it “soda” instead of “pop.” As a boy, his blood ran New England Patriots red more than Ohio State Buckeyes scarlet, so one might be tempted to give him a one-day pass on his uncharacteristically poor decision to ponder what should be impossible. But Day has been immersed in Buckeye Nation culture since 2017. He should know better than to mess with Michigan week. 

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Harbaugh has even less excuse to ho-hum one of the biggest rivalries in college football. He played quarterback for the Wolverines, famously inserting himself forever into OSU-UM lore in 1986 by first guaranteeing and then delivering a win. A win, I might add, that earned the Wolverines a conference title and trip to the Rose Bowl. Imagine if the 26-24 classic had been played earlier in the season. The Game would have been more just a game.

Coaches may disagree, but their own one-game-at-a-time preaching proves them wrong. How can OSU-UM mean everything when another game remains on the regular-season schedule? 

Ohio State coach Ryan Day shakes hands with Michigan's Jim Harbaugh.

I’ve heard the counter-arguments: There was a time before World War II when Ohio State and Michigan did not play the last week of the season. True, but there also was a time when players did not wear face masks. Do we want to return to that? (Actually, removing face masks might minimize the risk of concussions, but that’s a topic for another day). What is the cut-off date on determining when tradition becomes tradition? Get the CBJ Today newsletter in your inbox.

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It concerns some that keeping Ohio State-Michigan where it is on the schedule risks having another scarlet and maize slugfest one week later in the Big Ten Championship, which could happen with divisions having been eliminated; beginning in 2024 the title game will be contested between teams with the two best conference records.

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I share that concern, but two thoughts: why talk about breaking with tradition before back-to-back games come to fruition? Let’s first see how things shake out, especially with Southern California joining the conference in 2024; and also two wrongs don’t make a right. The Big Ten unfortunately erred by adding only USC and UCLA when it could have added two or more schools and designed a four-division format that would have kept Ohio State and Michigan in the same division and alleviated the threat of the schools playing in consecutive weeks. Don’t compound one bad decision with another.

My hunch? More than worry over watering down the rivalry, Day’s concern and Harbaugh’s apathy are veiled coaching code for not wanting to play two uber-challenging games in a row. How nice it would be to play The Game, followed by a week off against Rutgers or Northwestern, before having to face each other again or USC in the Big Ten Championship?

Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is accused of running a “cult” program heavy on intimidation and “toxicity.”

Program dysfunction at Minnesota?

I wrote last week about how the hazing scandal at Northwestern was the tip of the iceberg and that current and former college athletes and staffers at other schools would begin to come forward with allegations of hazing, bullying and other inappropriate behavior in their programs.

Voila. Former Minnesota football players accuse current coach P.J. Fleck of running a “cult” program heavy on intimidation and “toxicity.” Among the allegations, Fleck is accused of interfering with medical protocols by pushing for injured players to return earlier than anticipated.

The Gophers coach also is accused of using the “Fleck Bank,” a system where if players build up enough “coins” they can escape punishment for rules violations.

Fleck strongly denied the allegations, calling them “baseless.”

Stay tuned. These “inside-the-program” revelations are only going to increase across the college landscape. 

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is carted off the field on Thursday.