Today is "Rivalry Saturday," which in this day of made-for-television sporting events means different things to different people. Harvard-Yale? That ought to be its old, white-tablecloth self. But some rivalries have morphed into mere preludes to conference championship games. Contrast the significance of two of the best rivalries in all of sports: Ohio State-Michigan and Auburn-Alabama.
Today's game in Columbus between the visiting Wolverines and the Buckeyes is straightforward. If Michigan wins, it finishes unbeaten in the Big Ten, and all those maize-and-blue fans can start making plans to be in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day for the Rose Bowl -- simple, like it always has been (and, most hope, always will be).
But travel south to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the Crimson Tide will host the second-ranked Tigers, who have traveled fewer than 190 miles for this matchup. Should Auburn win, it will complete the regular season 11-0, a remarkable feat in the stout SEC. So their Bowl Championship Series berth should be apparent, right?
Nope. Win or not, Auburn -- already the champion of the SEC's West Division -- will play in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4 against the East's champion, almost certainly Tennessee. Therefore, to advance to the BCS, a right Michigan likely will earn in the regular season, the Tigers must win against an opponent it has already beaten, 34-10 on the road, no less.
With the ACC preparing to institute a championship game next year, and with the Big 12 and SEC having already made them part of the college sports landscape, it seems an appropriate time to remind people of why some conferences -- the SEC, Big 12 and ACC -- are in favor of these games and why others -- the Pacific-10 and Big Ten -- aren't.
-- Barry Svrluga