<
>

Big Ten mailbag: Loyalty/rivalry edition

4/7/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There has been a host of responses to Monday's post on Big Ten loyalties/rivalries in football versus men's basketball -- really great job, guys -- so I've decided to split up today's mailbag into two parts. I'll get to all your other questions later today, but for now, let's talk loyalty, rivalry and rooting interest.

Some varied responses from Big Ten Nation.

Dan from San Francisco writes: Every time a major in-conference rival enters a major non-conference game, I go through the same thought process as a Michigan Wolverines fan: Should I root for them? Yes, because that will strengthen our league. No, because they'll steal more of our recruits. Wait, yes, because recruits will want to go to a stronger league. Wait, wait...no. Why would I ever wish Ohio State -- er, I mean, "major in-conference rival" -- any success at all? Inevitably, I can't decide, so I just end up staying neutral. But I've got to admit, I'm not exactly heartbroken when the Buckeyes lose to anyone. -Dan "Shoe" Hsu P.S. Keep up the great work on the blog! I check it every day. :)

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Dan. You're certainly not alone in this struggle. Most Big Ten fans want the league to do well and gain national respect, as it can only help their favorite team. But rooting for archrivals, even in basketball, is easier said than done.


Eric S. from Parts Unknown writes: I just thought I?d let you know how some Big Ten students feel about cheering for our most hated rivals. As a senior at Ohio State I can honestly say that the number of conversations among friends about how badly we want to see SEC teams lose outnumbers the number of times we have discussed wanting to see Michigan lose by at least tenfold. I think students of Big Ten schools in general are tired of hearing how our beloved teams can?t compete with the speed and athleticism of the SEC and the powerful offenses of the Big 12. You posed a question about how many Michigan fans rooted for us in the national title games, and the answer is quite a lot. My father was born and raised in Detroit and he as well as the rest of my extended family living in Michigan wished the Buckeyes well over Christmas break before I headed out to watch us play Florida. Many of my peers recalled similar stories of other Big Ten fans hoping we could successfully carry the conference flag. The following year Buckeyes all around the country and especially campus returned the support as we watched the Gators lose to Michigan in their next bowl game. I can personally attest to the fact that many students on campus root for every Big Ten team in their bowl games regardless of rivalries. And, as the negativity from all around to country continues to be flung at so-called inadequate Big Ten teams, I can only see this cementing a better cohesiveness among schools of the conference. The latest generation of Buckeyes might not love Michigan, but I?d guess 9 out of 10 of them would root for the Wolverines if they took on Florida tomorrow.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the excellent insight, Eric. Interesting to see how the SEC has truly stoked the fire among Big Ten fans. And this also speaks to the national respect argument. It's definitely the popular thing to hate on the Big Ten right now, and much of it is justified. Look at the league's recent championship game flops in football and basketball. But all the national negativity does seem to unite Big Ten fan bases.


Matt from Toledo, Ohio, writes: Regarding rivals rooting for rivals, I would say that during the regular season, most fans root for their hated rivals to lose. I'm an OSU fan, and I love to see mich lose, Especially to Toledo last year. But when it comes to championships, or Bowl Games, I want them to win. Makes the Big 10 look better, and OSU looks even better after they've destroyed mich 5-6 years in a row, and counting.

Adam Rittenberg: I would guess that a large portion of Big Ten fans take this position when it comes to rivals. Had Penn State won the Rose Bowl by upsetting USC, a team that has done more to damage the Big Ten's national reputation than any other in college football, I would guess most Big Ten fans would love it. The same would hold true, perhaps to a lesser extent, for Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas. I do think if a Big Ten team wins multiple bowl games or national titles, it might be harder for rival fans to root for them in the postseason.


Curt from Chicago writes: Hey Adam, just wanted to respond to your piece about Big 10 loyalty. I think there is definitely some pulling together of Big 10 teams in the wake of the relentless attacks against the conference as a whole. Having said that, I think fans of each university of one team that they just can't bring themselves to route for. For Michigan fans, that's Ohio State. For MSU fans, that is Michigan. For Minnesota fans, it's Wisconsin, etc. So, Michigan fans backing MSU doesn't surprise me, but if their positions were flipped I would bet my bank account that MSU would not be routing for Michigan. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Another interesting take, Curt. When a team's No. 1 rival is so obvious, it certainly makes it harder for fans to root for that rival in a big game. The Michigan-Michigan State situation is interesting because one team has a different top rival (Ohio State), while the Spartans always will consider Michigan their No. 1 enemy. This also speaks to the football-basketball argument. I'm not sure how it was in 1989 or 1993, but I think if Michigan basketball made the Final Four in 2010, it would get some support from Spartans fans. But when Michigan football, the program that has truly dominated Michigan State, reaches the Rose Bowl, there's probably not much support from the other side.


Scott from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, in response to your Michigan fans rooting for Michigan St... As a Hawkeye fan and I certainly was NOT rooting for Illinois over UNC in the '05 championship. I NEVER root for Iowa State either. I am the type of person who wants our rivals to lose at everything!

John from France writes: In response to your post regarding school loyalty when a hated rival is competing for a national title. The answer: Never. When that school from Columbus played against Florida and LSU for the national title, you'd better believe I was celebrating after EVERY Gator and Tiger touchdown. Seeing O. State get clobbered on the national stage was all I could hope for at that point. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em? Not when a hated rival is front and center. I write this as Michigan State prepares for the national title game against the Tar Heels and I will be frank with you: I hope they choke. I hope they blow it. I hope they miss every open shot, lose every rebound and get dominated in every aspect of the game. In other words, I hope North Carolina mops the floor of Ford Field with those guys. Harsh economy? Sure. Does that mean I'm going to suddenly rally around a team I've hated for years? No. GO HEELS!

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, sounds like you ate a stale croissant Monday morning, John, but point well taken. And I'm sure both you and Scott were pleased with Monday night's result. Big Ten rivalries run deep, and taking pleasure in the demise of the one you hate is a part of sports. John and Scott certainly aren't alone in this belief. There were plenty of Michigan fans -- and ma
ybe even Iowa fans -- who went to sleep with smiles on their faces after watching the Spartans go down.


Shareef from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Adam, I definitely agree with you about us Michigan fans pulling for MSU in the final. I think a lot of it has to do with the road MSU took to the final. They beat USC, which beat the Wolverines 34-14 in the Rose Bowl two years ago. They beat UConn, whom the Wolverines lost to in a close nail-biter this past basketball season. We enjoy seeing a Big Ten team beating down on the national giants that, according to the media, can do no wrong. Tonight I'll say "Go Green! Go White!" but tomorrow, I'll go back to my normal "Go Blue!"

Adam Rittenberg: I like your take a lot, Shareef. It's an educated approach to rooting for rivals. The connection between USC basketball and Michigan football is a good one.