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Today's Tidbit... The Big Ten's First Conference Championship Game (in 1931)
The outcomes of this weekend's game determined various conference champs and the bowl destinations for every team fortunate to continue playing. Michigan outpaced Purdue to claim a conference championship in Big Ten country, but that was not Purdue's first post-season conference football championship game. The outcome also differed last time.
Back in 1931, the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, so the Big Ten decided to raise money for charity. They did so on the last weekend of the football season by deciding to extend the season by one week and donate the gate receipts to relief funds in each state.
Back then, teams played different numbers of conference games and had uneven schedules, leading to contested claims over who earned the conference championship. That was not the case in 1931 when Purdue (4-1, 8-1) lost during the season to Wisconsin, Michigan (4-1, 7-1-1) lost to Ohio State and had a nonconference tie with Michigan State, while Northwestern (5-0, 8-0-1) tied Notre Dame, but was unscathed in the conference, giving the Wildcats their first outright Big Ten football championship.
For the charity games, however, the conference matched its six leading teams with one another so that none faced an opponent from the regular season. It also stipulated the games would count in the conference standings, putting Northwestern's solo title at risk.
While those six teams played regulation, 60-minute games, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the other four teams played on Thanksgiving Day at Chicago's Stagg Field. Rather than play regulation games, the cellar dwellers played a tournament with 30-minute games. The morning matchups saw Chicago beat Iowa 7-0 while Indiana tied Illinois in a scoreless game. However, Indiana had more first downs than Illinois, so they advanced to face Chicago in the afternoon game, winning 7-0. (If you think playing two shortened games in a day is unusual, Chicago, Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin played full doubleheaders to open the 1931 season, which you can read about here.)
The three regulation games scheduled for the Saturday after Thanksgiving included:
Ohio State @ Minnesota
Wisconsin @ Michigan
Northwestern @ Purdue @ Soldier Field
In those games, Ohio State outlasted Minnesota 19-17, Michigan downed Wisconsin 16-0, and Purdue beat Northwestern 7-0, moving the Wildcats back into a three-way tie at 5-1 with Purdue and Michigan.
So, take heart, Purdue fans, your team is now 1-1 in conference championship games. Northwestern fans had to wait five more years to claim sole ownership of the Big Ten title.
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