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Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Schools pass on $1 million naming rights

Associated Press

DETROIT -- Forgoing more than $1 million, Michigan and Ohio State on Wednesday walked away from a deal that would have renamed their annual football game the SBC Michigan-Ohio State Classic.

SBC Communications had offered each school $260,000 for each of the next two years. A logo for the Nov. 20 game featuring SBC's name was to have been displayed on the scoreboard and on signs around Ohio Stadium, but not on the field or players' uniforms.

The order of the two school names was to be switched for next year's 102nd annual meeting in Ann Arbor.

Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said he and university president Mary Sue Coleman decided that giving a formal title to what has been known to generations of fans as simply "The Game" was unacceptable.

"The money was not the issue. We didn't even talk about the money," Martin said during a telephone interview. "It was a matter from president Coleman's perspective and mine in the final analysis that this was inconsistent with the values that we share with the greater Michigan family."

The rejection of the SBC deal was announced in a joint statement from Martin and Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger.

"As we attempted to move forward, it became apparent that this agreement could detract from the great tradition of the game itself," Geiger said. "Given that possibility, and the fast-approaching date of this year's game, the two universities agreed it was in their best interest not to pursue the arrangement at this time."

The deal would not have included advertisements on the field or in Michigan Stadium, where there is no commercial advertising. Ohio Stadium scoreboards have carried ads for at least 20 years.

Martin estimated that 80 percent of e-mails and phone calls from Michigan alumni opposed the SBC deal. Another 20 percent indicated "we understand the realities -- if you don't (sell naming rights), what's going to happen to our ticket prices?"

San Antonio-based SBC already sponsors the annual Red River Shootout between Oklahoma and Texas played in Dallas and the Cotton Bowl.

"We appreciate our ongoing relationships with The Ohio State University and the University of Michigan and will continue to work with both schools in ways to benefit education and the communities we serve," said Matt Resch, an SBC Michigan spokesman.

Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said he understood that the SBC deal had stirred negative emotions among fans.

"There's a lot of different ways you can look at any of the things we do, evolving from just going out in the yard and playing a pickup game to where we are today," Tressel said. "I'm sure there's a lot of things you could discuss as to 'Is that the right direction?"