After nearly two weeks of hand-wringing regarding what time of year Ohio State and Michigan would meet on the gridiron, the Big Ten announced Wednesday evening that the Buckeyes and Wolverines will continue a 75-year tradition and play The Game during the final week of the regular season in 2011 and '12.
In addition, Ohio State has been paired in a football division starting in 2011 with Illinois, Indiana, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin. Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern will comprise the other division. Division names as well as a new Big Ten logo should be announced within the next 90 days.
"We considered multiple models and countless permutations in an effort to acheive the most competitively balanced divisions while at the same time respecting our traditions, preserving existing rivalries and creating opportunities for the establishment and growth of new rivalries," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "We believe that we have achieved a very exciting result."
But the announcement that drew the most attention was the one about The Game. Ohio State and Michigan fans alike displayed vociferous displeasure as principals within the league and at each school discussed the possibility that the contest – which has been ended the regular season every year since 1935 – could be moved up in the calendar.
However, Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith said the contest's date was "never that close" to moving, adding that he and Michigan athletics director David Brandon called the Big Ten office last week to put in a request to keep it there.
"We only looked at one set of schedules today and it had that game at the end," he said. "(Brandon and I) did call the conference offices and shared that we would prefer that The Game would be at the end, not knowing which way they were going. We were blessed today when it came up."
Smith and Jim Delany said the league never considering moving The Game to October but said a date earlier in November was debated. Smith added he had received an untold number of emails as part of the public outcry from Ohio State fans who were against such an idea.
"It was great feedback and I really appreciate it," he said. "It was very rational, well thought out (and) provided me with great input as I went into our discussions. It reaffirmed, frankly, what some of us already knew."
Added Delany, "We've heard from fans on officiating, We've heard from fans on expansion, but we hadn't gone through this. People love the rivalry. ... They let us know it was important to them."
In his most extensive public comments about the situation, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said on the Big Ten conference call Tuesday afternoon that he preferred to play The Game at the end of the season.
"I've enjoyed being a part of and observing Ohio State and Michigan playing at the end of the season," he said. "But I'm not silly enough to think that my feelings are the only ones that are important."
The Ohio State-Michigan game is also one of the protected cross-divisional rivalries that will be staged each year.
Because the teams are in opposite divisions, there is the possibility that they could play in the Big Ten's new championship game starting next season. Smith, who along with Brandon supported putting the teams in opposite divisions, said that he would welcome such a scenario but had not given it much thought.
"We didn't discuss that today very much," he said. "It was like one comment and we moved on. I think it didn't seem to be a big issue. You look at the history of it since 1993, it's happened only once or twice, so you shouldn't determine your long-term future based upon those types of ratios. We didn't discuss it a while lot, but if it ends up that way it'll be exciting."
The Buckeyes' 2011 Big Ten schedule starts Oct. 1 when OSU hosts Michigan State. One week later, the Buckeyes will face Nebraska for the first time in conference play in Lincoln.
The 2012 slate starts Sept. 29 with a game against Michigan State and includes Nebraska's first trip to Ohio Stadium on Oct. 6.
"It's great," Smith said of the series with the Cornhuskers. "It's awesome. Actually I was hoping they'd be here in the first year. If any of our fans have been to Lincoln, the fans are just great there. It's a great place to go and when they come here it'll be a great atmosphere."
The schedules will be evaluated before those for 2013 and beyond are determined.
The announcements were spurred by the summer expansion of the conference to include Nebraska starting with the 2011 season, bumping the league to 12 teams for the first time.
The divisions released today apply only to the league's football slate. According to both Delany and Smith, the division setups were based on competitive factors instead of geography.
Ohio State Future Schedules
Akron (Sept. 3)
Toledo (Sept. 10)
at Miami (Fla.) (Sept. 17)
Colorado (Sept. 24)
Michigan State (Oct. 1)
at Nebraska (Oct. 8)
at Illinois (Oct. 15)
Open Date (Oct. 22)
Wisconsin (Oct. 29)
Indiana (Nov. 5)
at Purdue (Nov. 12)
Penn State (Nov. 19)
at Michigan (Nov. 26)
Miami (Ohio) (Sept. 1)
Cincinnati (Sept. 8)
California (Sept. 15)
UAB (Sept. 22)
at Michigan State (Sept. 29)
Nebraska (Oct. 6)
at Indiana (Oct. 13)
Purdue (Oct. 20)
at Penn State (Oct. 27)
Illinois (Nov. 3)
Open Date (Nov. 10)
at Wisconsin (Nov. 17)
Michigan (Nov. 24)