1973 : Michigan – Ohio State Tiebreaker Causes Controversy

November 25, 2020 all-day

The aftermath of the 1973 Ohio State vs. Michigan football game was one of the most notorious episodes in Big Ten history. In this game, both teams were undefeated, with Ohio State ranked 1st, and Michigan ranked 4th. A conference championship, Rose Bowl appearance, and possible national championship was on the line in this monumental game, part of the hotly contested stretch of the rivalry known as The Ten Year War. A then-NCAA record crowd of 105,233 watched the game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Michigan’s coaches and players felt that although the game was a tie, that they were the better team and deserved to go to the Rose Bowl. Even Ohio State coach Woody Hayes admitted that his team wouldn’t go to the Rose Bowl. There was lots of debate on who would play in the Rose Bowl. Michigan’s strong second half, and Franklin’s injury were factors in debating who would represent the conference in the “granddaddy of them all”.

Ohio State had gone to the Rose Bowl the year before. The Big Ten at the time had a longstanding policy stating that only the conference champion would go to a bowl, the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten also had a “no-repeat” rule until 1971, and had it still been in effect, Michigan would have gone to the Rose Bowl automatically, even if it had lost to Ohio State. With the latter rule abolished, the decision as to who would represent the conference would be left up to a telephone vote by the Big Ten’s athletic directors. According to Michigan coach Bo Schembechler’s 1989 autobiography, the Big Ten was nervous because the conference had lost the previous four Rose Bowls, and Franklin’s injury may have been a deciding factor.

On the day after the game, following a conference call (or a meeting in Chicago — a current ESPN documentary reports both possibilities), it was announced that Ohio State would play in the Rose Bowl instead of Michigan. Ohio State won the game.

What were the deciding factors? The ESPN documentary speculates that the Big Ten Commissioner revealed that the Michigan quarterback had broken his collarbone in the game, seriously hurting Michigan’s chances in The Rose Bowl. It was also pointed out that Michigan State either voted for Ohio State or itself to go, denying Michigan the spot. Despite being a Michigan man, the MSU athletic director may have been influenced by Michigan’s vote in 1949 to deny MSU a spot in the Big Ten. At any rate, the envelope containing each of the Athletic Director’s votes disappeared, and the Big Ten Commissioner and the Big Ten’s Attorney, the only other two individuals to know the vote’s outcome, never revealed what happened.

At any rate Schembechler was furious at the call, referring to it as “an embarrassment to the Big Ten Conference” and claiming “petty jealousies” were involved, and remained bitter about the decision to his death. Schembechler went on to demand changes to the Big Ten’s policies regarding post-season play.

Soon afterwards the Big Ten Conference abolished the archaic “Rose Bowl or No Bowl” rule. This would allow conference teams other than the champion to accept invitations to other bowls. Michigan would be the first team to receive such an invite, to the Orange Bowl following the 1975 season. Another change, which also took effect in 1975, was the dropping of the athletic directors’ vote in the event of a tie for the championship. The new rule stated the team which had gone the longest without appearing in the Rose Bowl would go to Pasadena. Schembechler had pushed for that reform, claiming that the athletic directors were not qualified to decide which team would better represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.

Sources :

1973 Ohio State vs. Michigan football game wikipedia entry

Bill Livingston, ‘Tiebreaker’ — Vietnam, Watergate, Michigan-Ohio State, and Big Ten concern for its 1973 football image, Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 16, 2013.

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