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Published: Wednesday, 8/25/2010

Keeping OSU-UM rivalry as season finale gaining Web support

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

There's probably a bit of sensationalism involved, but friends and screenwriting partners David Gallagher and Eric Champnella don't communicate much during Ohio State-Michigan week.

It's a tradition that began a few years back when the Midwest exports met one another in Los Angeles and formed a bond centered on The Game. Now their tradition - as well as a bunch of other traditions related to the rivalry - appears tenuous because of current rumblings that a facelift will be given to perhaps college football's greatest rivalry.

When the Big Ten separates into two divisions beginning next season, there is a strong chance OSU and UM will be placed on opposite sides. Gallagher, a Buckeye, and Champnella, a Wolverine, don't love that arrangement, but they'll get over it. But what's driving them as berserk as rush-hour traffic on L.A.'s 405 is the thought of their teams not squaring off in the final game of the regular season.

Those with influence, such as UM athletic director Dave Brandon, appear to be bracing both fan bases for an announcement that beginning with the 2011 season OSU-UM will not be the final game of the regular season for either team. The current arrangement has been in place since 1935.

"I would prefer to see them in the same division, but if they go in opposite divisions, that's not our big crusade," said Gallagher, an OSU fan who was born in Toledo and grew up in Bryan. "We just want them to keep The Game the last game of the season."

The fight is on, and as of midday Tuesday Gallagher and Champnella's Facebook group, Don't Mess With the Ohio State/Michigan Game, had grown to more than 900 members since its creation Sunday.

Listed on the group's page is contact information for the presidents of the two schools, OSU's Gordon Gee and UM's Mary Sue Coleman.

By the end of the week, Champnella, a UM graduate who worked as a play-by-play announcer for the student radio station, will upload a homemade video highlighting the cause.

Champnella has approached various Michigan media outlets voicing his concern, and based on the feedback he has received, along with comments left on various Internet message boards, it appears the majority of UM and OSU followers aren't happy about breaking tradition either.

"There are some traditions that you don't change, and this is one of them," Champnella said. "It didn't sound like the voice was being given, not only to the majority, but from what I can see the vast majority, who don't want to see this change."

If the game's date is to change, it will be done so to prevent the teams from playing twice within a seven-day span.

Of course that's an issue that will only come to light if both teams win their respective divisions in the Big Ten and advance to the conference championship game.

AnnArbor.com columnist Michael Rothstein ripped the proposal earlier this week, opining, "So why mess with a bunch of tradition just on the off chance you might see Michigan-Ohio State twice in a row?" The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported that had OSU and UM been in opposite division over the past 17 years, they would have played in a title game just three or four times.

Yahoo's Dan Wetzel, who calls Detroit his home, wrote the potential change is "the butchering of the regular season in an effort to protect the postseason." Wetzel believes TV ratings and revenue should not trump a long-standing tradition.

Nonetheless, those with more influence than journalists and screen writers, are hinting that change is inevitable.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel recently said, "It's not always going to be when it is now. I think change is exciting."

Brandon, a former UM player, told an Ann Arbor radio station there is a "distinct possibility" the game will be moved up on the calendar.

"That's simply because I don't think the coaches or the players or the fans or the networks or anyone would appreciate that matchup twice within a seven-day period," the UM AD said.

At least for now, most fans aren't in agreement with Brandon.

A couple of Facebook entrepreneurs hope Brandon and others of power are simply tossing the idea out to appraise the public's reactions. If that's the case, then Gallagher and Champnella wish to be persistent.

"I feel like they're preparing us for change, but I would love it if they are floating it out there," Gallagher said. "Because in that case, a Facebook page that gets 20,000 people could do something."

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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