This weekend, two football games will kickoff at Noon eastern time that will have an impact on whether or not Michigan State plays in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. The first, obviously, is MSU’s game against Indiana. A win gives the Spartans a 6-1 conference record and an assurance of no worse than a tie for first place in the Legends Division with only a trip to Evanston remaining. Down the road, the other game features the teams currently tied for second in the Legends Division, Nebraska and Michigan. Those teams both sit at 4-2 in the conference. If Michigan loses, they will be eliminated from contention for the championship game. If Nebraska loses, MSU would need to lose twice and Michigan would have to lose to OSU (SpartanDan puts this possibility at less than 1/10th of a percent).
All of this means that if MSU and Michigan both win on Saturday, MSU will be representing the Legends Division in the Championship Game regardless of what happens the last week of the season (the Spartans’ 4th straight win over the Wolverines would serve as the tiebreaker should both teams finish 6-2).
Of course, this has inevitably led to an age-old Spartan fan conundrum that rears its head every so often: do the current circumstances make it acceptable or appropriate to root for a Michigan victory? Last year, for example, a Michigan win over OSU would have given MSU a berth in the Rose Bowl (or if Tressel had admitted to cheating, or if the tiebreakers weren’t stupid…but I digress). MSU beat writer Joe Rexrode weighs in with an emphatic "Yes!" Countered by the terse-but-not-at-all-unexpected "Nope, sorry, I can’t" from Coach Dantonio.
Technically, MSU does not NEED help from anyone to make it to the Championship Game. MSU need only win its last two games. On the other hand, clinching the division with a week to play, with one game remaining in a place that required a dramatic comeback a year ago, is inarguably a great result for MSU. Predictably, this leads to an existential crisis that causes MSU fans to question the very meaning of being a fan. And of the universe. From what I can tell, there are 5 basic schools of thought among the fanbase:
1. The Hardliner: “F**k those guys, I’d rather eat a jagged metal Krusty-O than root for them under any circumstances ever, even when it would directly benefit MSU.”
2. The Last Resorter: “F**k those guys, we can win it ourselves without their help and I will not root for them unless them winning is absolutely necessary to achieve what I want for MSU.”
3. The Pragmatist: “You know what, I can set aside the searing hatred for a day and actually root for them because the end result will directly benefit my Spartans.”
4. The Avoider: “I am so torn between my hatred for them and my desire for clinching the division that I will pretend the Michigan-Nebraska game isn’t happening, and thus avoid the inner conflict and guilt that will accompany watching it.”
5. The Bargainer: “I’m not rooting FOR Michigan, I’m rooting AGAINST Nebraska, and I don’t care if that logic makes no sense, that’s my rationale and I’m sticking with it, because I’d love it if we clinched the division on Saturday.”
My original intent in writing this was to figure out a concrete answer to tell you which of these mindsets is the right one. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that each position is defensible in its own right (and by the way, this analysis applies to any sports team faced with a similar situation). I also thought about coming to the conclusion that the whole concept is a logical fallacy, since Michigan will win or lose whether we "root" for them or not, so why even bother making a choice? But we're in the world of sports fandom, and to admit that our rooting interests have no effect on a game would mean that we're all living a lie, and life is meaningless, and we might as well stop watching sports and go hike mountains or something. This is not acceptable. For instance, I know for a fact that wearing a certain shirt during MSU games and drinking a specific kind of beer at tailgate helps them win.
So instead of making any conclusions, I will put the question to my fellow Spartans. Where do you fall in the categories listed above? Or are there other categories that I missed? Personally, I am conditioned as a Hardliner, but on Saturday, I will probably fall into the Avoider* camp. Since I'm going to be at the MSU game, I will not be able see what's happening in Ann Arbor, therefore I can distance myself from having any emotional investment in that game. I will get updates as the game goes on, but my only focus will be on MSU and keeping that
beautiful endearingly ugly Old Brass Spittoon. And I know that if we win, it would be pretty awesome to hear an announcement at the Stadium that we will be playing in Indy.
*I reserve the right to change this position numerous times between now and 3:00 Saturday.