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While researching my brief post on the 1964 team I noticed that Michigan played both Michigan State and Ohio State on the road that season, unlike today or any other time that I could recall in my lifetime. 

Looking at the Bentley Library season by season summaries, the shift happened in 1968 when Michigan scheduled Michigan State for a second straight home game that season (see back-to-back ticket stubs to the left).
    

Anyone know the circumstances behind the shift?  I asked Bruce Madej and Craig Ross and they weren’t sure.   It’s easy to understand why Michigan would want such a change.

The Buckeyes and Spartans were very powerful at the time, and it probably was a headache for the coaches to face them twice on the road every other year.  As far as ticket sales (keep in mind the Big House had plenty available back then), having to go every other year without seeing Michigan’s rivals probably was tough on season ticket sales.

Update 10/4:  Thanks to writer/historian John Kryk, author of the awesome Natural Enemies, a thorough explanation:

It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the Big Ten mandated that teams had to play home-and-homes with other conference teams, if that’s what the other conference teams wanted. But either right away or eventually, if both teams agreed, they could waive the home-and-home. I am sure that is why Northwestern played at UM almost every time in the 1970s an into the mid-1980s. To that point, I’m pretty sure NW’s stadium didn’t even hold 50,000. So presuming equal ticket prices, the teams would split more than double the gate they’d get in Evanston. Back then, that meant hundreds of thousands of dollars not millions, but still a hefty amount.

Before 1958, Michigan State played at Michigan almost every year — an arrangement the Spartans detested, but UM athletic director Fritz Crisler continually threatened to put the series on the shelf as long as he had the power and ability to so threaten the Spartans. That’s why MSU played at Michigan every year from 1945 to 1957 except 1948 and 1953.

Starting in 1958, Michigan had to play home-and-homes with MSU by conference rule, but it just happened that the road games with MSU occurred the same years as OSU road games, and vice versa for the home games.

When Don Canham took over as AD in 1968, one of the first things he did was get MSU to agree to stagger its home-and-homes with Michigan. So after playing at UM in 1967, MSU played at Michigan again in 1968 — I do not know how Canham got MSU to agree to the stagger without UM having to play at MSU two years in a row, but I suspect he probably gave MSU a whack of cash from the ’68 game for doing so.

Ever since 1968, MSU and OSU have been on this staggered schedule.

Main reason? Not for competitive reasons, but Canham said in the ’60s Michigan’s season-ticket requests always plummeted in the even-numbered years when neither Michigan State nor Ohio State played at Michigan Stadium. By staggering them, either MSU or OSU was always playing at Michigan Stadium in any given year.

Pertains to the Big Ten rule in late ’50s mandating home-and-homes for conf games. Of course, almost all teams wanted that. But either right away or eventually, if both teams agreed, they could waive the home-and-home. I am sure that is why Northwestern played at UM almost every time in the 1970s an into the mid-1980s. To that point, I’m pretty sure NW’s stadium didn’t even hold 50,000. So presuming equal ticket prices, the teams would split more than double the gate they’d get in Evanston. Back then, that meant hundreds of thousands of dollars not millions, but still a hefty amount.

Excellent – thanks John!

2 Comments

  1. My understanding is that Canham wanted to avoid “feast-or-famine” revenue streams, and asked to move the MSU game so that it alternated with OSU. At the time, those two games were the only ones drawing 100,000/game.

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