On Sunday, November 25, 1973 Bo Schembechler declared that this was the “worst day in my entire sport’s career.” Why such despair from the famous Michigan football coach? Well, it was simple. The Big Ten Conference just announced the result of the “infamous” athletic director vote on who to send to the 1974 Rose Bowl.
If the “upset of the century” in 1969 against OSU was Bo’s most satisfying win, and it was, then, the 1973 “tiebreaker” vote was his greatest disappointment. So, let’s find out why November 25, 1973 was “Bo Schembechler’s Worst Day!”
Michigan and Ohio State were both undefeated going into the November 24th game. The fourth-ranked Wolverines saw the top-ranked Buckeyes jump out to a 10-0 lead that they maintained until halftime. In the second half, the Wolverines, behind Dennis Franklin and Mike Lantry, came back to score ten points of their own and almost win the game. Unfortunately, Michigan lost Franklin late in the game with a shoulder injury and Lantry missed two field goals – one by inches – and the game ended in a 10-10 deadlock. So, both teams had a conference record of 7-0-1. Commissioner Wayne Duke had a problem and the “solution” would spark more controversy than any other event in the history of the Big Ten Conference.
Since OSU had gone to the Rose Bowl the year before, everyone thought that Michigan would be in the Big Ten’s Representative in Pasadena on January 1, 1974. However, the Big Ten had changed the “no repeat” rule, so it really wasn’t clear who would go bowling. In preparation for such an event, Duke had previously decided to call for a special vote to determine the best team to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten had lost three straight games so Duke was desperate for a bowl win. Yes, that’s probably the best word to use in this situation. Desperate men do desperate things in desperate times!
The final vote was six to four in favor of sending the Buckeyes to Pasadena. Bo went nuts, but when it was all said and done, he simply called it a “a disgrace to the Big Ten.” He called for Commissioner Duke to come to Ann Arbor to tell the Wolverines they weren’t good enough and to tell his back-up quarterback (Larry Cipa) that he couldn’t do the job. Of course, Duke never showed and, but Bo never forgot what he called a “great injustice.
Bo received an official reprimand for his “unsportsmanlike conduct” and Duke put him on “probation” for a year. Can you believe it?
A few years ago, I spent part of a day at the Bentley Historical Library reading the letters that went back and forth between Wayne Duke and Don Canham. Bo made some strong comments and he would not let up. He was making Duke look really bad. (Personally, I think Duke deserved it.) It went on for a few months before Commissioner Duke put the hammer down and that was it. Schembechler would remain bitter about this incident for the rest of his life. He truly felt that his players had been treated unfairly and he didn’t know how else to handle it.
The only good that came out of the whole mess was that the conference later voted to change their archaic bowl rule. Instead of allowing one team going to a bowl game at the end of the season, other teams would also be allowed to go if invited. This was not quite what Bo wanted in 1973, but it was a step in the right direction. Of course, the Big Ten now sends six to seven teams a year to bowl games and rakes in tons more money. As Bo would say, “It was a helluva price to pay!”
So, there was no game on November 24, 1973, but there was a “Bo Quake” that register ed about 20 on the Richter Scale. So, November 25, 1973 was Bo Schembechler’s Worst Day and definitely one of the worst days in Michigan Football History. Sometimes we have to talk about the good stuff and sometimes we have to talk about the bad. This post was definitely one about the bad!
The Big Ten now has a better plan for determining a champion and what to do in case of division ties and all that stuff. The best thing is that the athletic directors don’t get a vote! Hopefully, the Wolverines will make it easy on everyone and win tomorrow. Then, they need to go on to victory in the BIG Conference championship game next week. Go Blue!
There are some interesting articles about the “Tiebreaker” vote in 1973 if you want to read them. Of course, the Big Ten’s “Tiebreaker” documentary is fascinating. Highly recommend it!