When asked where we went to college, we graduates of Michigan State are often annoyed by the follow up question: “That’s in Ann Arbor, right?”
It’s as if, because we went to a big state school, it must the University of Michigan. That’s the one that counts, right? And even if you said “Michigan State,” it must be the good one in Ann Arbor, and I’m just getting them confused, right?
The prejudice runs deep, and it is hard to escape. It shows up no more prominently than in the rivalry between Michigan’s and Michigan State’s football teams. I don’t pretend to know a lot about the calculations behind college football standings (Roger Groves, a contributing writer for Forbes, explains how State was cheated yet again), but I do know a little about fairness.
When the better team in the eyes of the establishment gets more attention and more endorsements and more money, being serious about fairness matters. However, the Bowl Championship Series deciders have little interest in fairness.
I don’t know what they’re interested in, because Michigan, with a worse record than State, is playing in the Sugar Bowl, one of the five important BCS matches.
Our reward: The Outback Bowl. Steaks. Baby back ribs. Tobster tails. Bloomin’ onion. Heartburn. Heartbreak.
State had an amazing 2011 season. The Spartans made it all the way to the very first Big 10 championship game against Wisconsin. We lost. It sucks. But we can still be proud we made it that far. We’re No. 2 in the Big 10. And we did better than Michigan. (We beat them decisively, 28-14.)
In fact, the Spartans have beaten the Wolverines in every one of the last four seasons. Michigan seniors graduating this year won’t know what it’s like to have beaten Michigan State.
Michigan has a 10-2 record. State has a 10-3 record. On its face, it would seem that Michigan has the better record. 10 out of 12 is better than 10 out of 13—except that the reason State played that extra championship match is because they deserved to—and Michigan didn’t. The only reason State lost that game was because they did better than Michigan to get there in the first place.
If playing a better season than Michigan doesn’t get State into a better bowl game than Michigan, I’m not willing to put any faith into the mechanics behind the BCS calculations.
State may win the Outback Bowl, and Michigan may lose the Sugar Bowl. But I bet you money, Michigan’s loss would get bigger play than State’s win.
I’m used to it. We know the truth. I only wish the truth mattered as much for State as fiction did for Michigan.