When Michigan Stadium’s renovations were finally complete and I attended The Big Chill At The Big House hockey game in 2010, one thought constantly entered my mind that chilly December evening. One thought other than “Rick Comley needs to be fired immediately,” of course.
“There has to be a night football game here in the future between Michigan and Michigan State!”
It seemed perfectly natural then, and still does now. The biggest stadium in the game. Two of college football’s key protagonists. A state divided under the lights, where the pressure’s always magnified and big moments seemingly become a guarantee.
Thus, when it was recently discussed there were rumblings about making this year’s Michigan vs. Michigan State football contest in Ann Arbor a night game, I got very excited. If you care about either school (and the Big Ten in general) you should be fired up, too.
So Michigan fans, temporarily put aside the notion that this would be another one of Dave Brandon’s sketchy marketing ploys. And Michigan State fans, don’t fear the potential big moment. After all, Mark Hollis doesn’t. Want one surefire way to prove the Spartans have arrived to stay on the national scene? Beat the Wolverines under the lights on their home turf with the world watching.
More than a marketing tool or a measuring stick, though, this event would prove fantastic for the beligured brand that is Big Ten football. Last season, Michigan and Michigan State were two of the conference’s better teams. Why not showcase that and pit them against each other nationwide at night this year? Michigan has Denard Robinson, one of the most electrifying offensive players in the game, returning. Michigan State’s defense may end up being one of the better units in the country. That confrontation is something football fans everywhere should hunger to see, regardless of where they live or who they cheer on.
In fact, to paraphrase Donald Trump, as long as we’re thinking, we may as well think big. Take it a step further, and make this a yearly, alternating event. One year, have the “Battle for Paul Bunyan” at night in Ann Arbor, and the next, at night in East Lansing. There’s no reason to hide this wonderful clash from the nation, and the television networks might just agree. The Big Ten will never have any state rivalry as sexy as Alabama vs. Auburn, Texas vs. Texas A&M or even Florida vs. Florida State, but there isn’t any reason Michigan and Michigan State can’t enter into that territory. Especially if they are given the chance to play a few heart-stopping, epic battles at night.
If Brandon is truly concerned about security as he’s previously stated, he shouldn’t allow that small detail to hold this event back. Michigan has already hosted the outdoor hockey game with great success and is set to host the Winter Classic. Ann Arbor was not rife with hooligans following last year’s night football game against Notre Dame. The details are not that complicated. Simply hire a few more forces for a bigger game. Ask the Big Ten for suggestions if security is that big of a worry.
The last thing anybody in Michigan should want to see now is a noon kickoff on the Big Ten Network or ESPN. No offense intended to either one of those entities, but that time slot is football’s equivalent of daytime television; riveting for those who care, but missed by nearly everyone else. Michigan is turning things around under Brady Hoke, and Michigan State has done the same with Mark Dantonio. This game can only get bigger, better and more dramatic as time wears on, potentially with national implications.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney would be wise to showcase two teams on the upswing from the same state in a historic confrontation, and both universities would be wise to do whatever they can to make this event an annual reality, including the relatively minor detail of finding some extra security.
All the extra precautions could prove to be worth it in the end for both schools, and a conference which still desperately needs a perception turnaround nationally.