College football calls it The Game, but just as easily it could be The Obsession — Ohio State fans’ fixation with hatred for Michigan football.
Or anything Michigan, for that matter. Many fans have little use for the entire frayed mitten. There’s even a song about not giving a damn for the whole state.
Personally, I enjoy visiting The State Up North — once you get past Mackinac Island. Wonderful weather — for two weeks a year. I’m joking, but to many OSU fans, making fun of Michigan is more serious business than laughing matter.
A recent study and two surveys show the depth of Ohio State fans’ all-consuming mania with Michigan.
An academic study that examined all manner of sports rivalries reported that Ohio State fans allocate 90.71 "rivalry points" toward the Wolverines. No other college fan base assigned more points toward one team. By comparison, Alabama fans assigned only 48.21 points to Auburn, with 25.42 points going to Tennessee and 19.94 to LSU.
Ohio State’s second biggest rival, according to the study at knowrivalry.com: Wisconsin, with 3.61 points.
Digging deeper into Buckeye Nation’s obsession with Michigan in general, and The Game in particular, two Twitter polls — one by The Dispatch and another by the (Toledo) Blade — revealed almost identical results to the question "Would you rather (a) lose to Michigan but win the College Football Playoff, or (b) defeat Michigan but lose in the playoff?"
The Dispatch survey showed that, when forced to choose — there was no option to "Beat UM and win the national title," because the point was to gauge the game’s impact — 42% of fans would rather the Buckeyes win in Ann Arbor on Saturday and lose in the playoff than to secure the school’s seventh national championship, even if it means losing to Michigan.
The Blade poll showed similar results, with 41% voting to "Beat UM, but lose in CFP."
While winning a title still came out ahead, with nearly 60% of the vote among some 3,000 participants, a fair share of Twitter commenters were stunned that so many fans would choose winning The Game over a championship.
A typical sampling: "Nothing tops a national championship. Nothing. It’s how we judge programs," Rick Adamczak posted. "We can rub a national championship in the faces of Michigan fans forever."
Still, I’m not surprised a sizable minority feels differently. Especially among older fans, Michigan is 11 games in one. Lose to the Team That Will Not Be Named and the season goes bust.
"Losing to UM should never be acceptable. Not even for a NC," commented Bob Shoemaker, who this week goes by ShoeXaker.
A few observations: Given Ohio State’s 17-2 record against Michigan since 2001, which includes seven consecutive wins, Scarlet and Gray antipathy toward the Maize and Blue has become more learned than felt, more nurture than nature. That’s not to suggest the rivalry has bottomed out. In some ways, because of TV hype, social-media snark and astute marketing — for example, OSU crossing out every reference to "M" on campus buildings was not a thing until maybe a decade ago — The Game has ballooned into every corner of our consciousness.
Yet my hunch is that an increasing number of Ohio State fans despise the idea of Michigan more than loathe (and fear) TTUN itself.
There was a time, especially during the Woody Hayes-Bo Schembechler 10-Year War (1969-78), when losing to Michigan meant missing the Rose Bowl, playing in a lesser bowl game and/or ruining national title hopes. Catch that? "When losing to Michigan." Not if.
Passion for The Game remains high among Ohio State fans. Surveys show anti-Michigan sentiment has not dissipated. What’s missing is the pain. Real hatred, not the manufactured kind, derives from hurt.
Luckily for Buckeye Nation, as long as coach Ryan Day doesn’t button up the offense, I don’t see much hurt happening on Saturday. Ohio State by 14.