The mystery remains 40 years later: What was the exact vote among the Big Ten athletic directors that sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl over Michigan in 1973?
The BTN could have taken the easy route in solving the mystery, but it didn’t in its new documentary, Tiebreaker. (Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.)
The film examines the storied rivalry and the fallout from the ’73 game, arguably the biggest controversy in Big Ten history.
For now and probably forever, the essence of Ohio State-Michigan will be defined by the 10-year war between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. Among those games, the 10-10 tie in Ann Arbor in 1973.
Here are the facts: The tie left both teams at 7-0-1 in the Big Ten; Ohio State was 9-0-1 overall and Michigan was 10-0-1. Who goes to the Rose Bowl?
The conference did a vote the next day of athletic directors. It was assumed that since Ohio State went the previous year, and since Michigan dominated the second half, the Wolverines would go to Pasadena.
However, Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin broke his collarbone at the end of the Ohio State game. The injury likely swayed the ADs, who didn’t want the Big Ten to be embarrassed again in the Rose Bowl. In a stunner, they went with Ohio State.
For 40 years, the exact outcome of the secret vote and how each AD voted remained a mystery. It is at the core of the documentary, as the BTN tries to provide some answers.
There are only two people who know for sure. Unfortunately, health issues prevented former Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke, 85, from appearing in the film.
The other person, Big Ten attorney Byron Gregory, only talked off-camera for the film. He provided some details, but he cited attorney-client privilege in declining to answer questions about the exact vote.
Gregory’s answer leads to another interesting question: Why didn’t the Big Ten just waive the attorney-client privilege to allow the network it owns to get a direct answer?
“All of the ADs at the time were assured the vote would be confidential,” said BTN president Mark Silverman. “The conference decided to honor that and maintain the attorney-client privilege.”
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine in today’s media landscape that a vote like that would be done in complete secrecy. Twitter would have exploded.
“It was a different time, and things were done differently,” Silverman said. “You didn’t have Twitter, the Internet, and 24/7 coverage. That’s one of the things that comes across in the film.”
From the documentary’s perspective, it probably was better that the conference attorney didn’t tell all. Instead, the uncertainty left the BTN to sift through the myths and legends to finally unravel what really happened.
It all adds up to a highly compelling film. The highlight was a reunion meal with participants from both teams.
While the players were friendly and showed considerable respect for the rivalry, the bitterness on the Michigan side remains strong 40 years later.
Franklin from Tom Dienhart’s column at BTN.com:
“How did I find out we weren’t going to the Rose Bowl? People were calling me. A reporter from the New York Times called my apartment to tell me Ohio State was voted to the Rose Bowl. I didn’t believe it until I heard it from Bo.”
“I never saw Bo so upset, bitter, frustrated, confused. He always told us if we did this, we would get this payoff. Well, we did what he asked but didn’t get the payoff. He just couldn’t explain it. That’s the kind of stuff you don’t forget.”
“Were politics involved? There always are, but I don’t think there were active politics. There wasn’t enough time for that. The Big Ten had lost four Rose Bowls in a row and felt Ohio State gave the league a better chance to win than Michigan because I was hurt. But I could have played. I was throwing the ball in December. C’mon. I would have played. Are you kidding me? We were denied our reward for three seasons. I never got to go to a bowl despite going 30-2-1 as a starter in three years.”
“Even if I couldn’t have played, we could have won with Larry Scippo at quarterback. He was talented. A good, strong arm, threw a tight spiral. He had all the ability. Who said we couldn’t win with Larry?”
“If any good came from it, it was the fact the Big Ten opened up to allowing more than one team to go to a bowl. It makes me feel good to know that.”