The B1G messed this up on Aug. 11, and now it's paying a huge price
You could see it coming from a mile away.
All gas, no breaks. No problem, right? Surely the B1G’s decision to try and squeeze an 8-game regular season without any makeup dates and stricter COVID-19 protocols than any other FBS conference would be totally fine.
Nobody actually thought that when the B1G announced its plans to reverse course (again). Well, at least nobody who actually had a realistic mindset for how a non-bubble sports league was planning on operating.
Wednesday’s news that Nebraska vs. Wisconsin would be canceled, not postponed, was significant on a variety of levels. You noticed I emphasized “canceled” because as we’ve been forced to remember with dozens of FBS games getting “postponed,” there’s a major difference. To postpone is to have a makeup date. To cancel is to say, “welp, I guess there’s nothing we can do now.”
The B1G’s first cancelation was inevitable. Its problems moving forward are also inevitable.
That is, attempting to sell a complete season to the Playoff. That includes crowning a worthy conference championship the day before the Playoff announcement, which is now more of a challenge when you consider you have to crown division champions who will seemingly play a different number of total games. That Playoff timeline, of course, was at the root of the change of heart.
Now, the B1G is dealing with the exact situation it set itself up for back on Aug. 11. It’s a mess. As the great Chris Stapleton would say, “and I’ve got nobody to blame but me.”
Aug. 11 was the date that Kevin Warren poorly communicated that the B1G would not be playing a fall football season after university presidents vote against it. Instead of trusting the protocols that were in place and settling on a uniform decision with the other Power 5 conferences, a decision was rushed. By the time the B1G finally reversed course on Sept. 16, it still needed a full fall training camp to proceed with the season, which led to the Oct. 24 start day.
If you’ve been paying attention, this isn’t news. What is news is that it took the B1G approximately 1 football weekend to realize that tiptoeing around land mines isn’t sustainable for 8 weeks. This was bound to blow up in the league’s face.
Compare that to the SEC, which had its first COVID-related shifts 2 weeks ago. The difference is that with a September start date and the built-in makeup date for Dec. 12, it didn’t find itself in the same sort of mess. Granted, it’s still a bit of a mess when you consider that teams like Florida and Vandy are in jeopardy of not playing a full 10-game regular season if they have another outbreak or one of their opponents has an outbreak.
Welcome to 2020, where things outside your control are a ticking time bomb.
The B1G could’ve somewhat stayed in control of how its 2020 would play out. In fact, that’s exactly what I praised the league for when it initially came out with its conference-only schedule. It was an aggressive way to not deal with the moving pieces, AKA the out-of-conference teams adhering to their own protocols and putting B1G teams in jeopardy of being subject to their own outbreaks or not playing the same amount of games.
And here we are on Oct. 28, facing that latter scenario. You know, the one the B1G hoped to avoid.
Maybe the fact that it’s Wisconsin makes this feels a little different. The Badgers were the favorites to win the B1G West heading into the season, and one could argue that they only strengthened their case with Graham Mertz’s debut for the ages. Mertz is now at the center of Wisconsin’s outbreak, along with coach Paul Chryst.
Mertz’s second positive test confirmed a frustrating reality. Per the B1G’s protocols, he’ll spend 21 days in isolation. That means best-case scenario, Mertz will be eligible for the Michigan game on Nov. 14. If his quarantined teammates tested positive Sunday or later, they would be eligible to return for the Badgers’ Nov. 21 game against Northwestern. Wisconsin’s hope is that it’ll rid of its outbreak problem by shutting down the facilities for 7 days.
There’s irony in that. When the B1G announced on Sept. 16 its plans to return, Wisconsin was in the midst of a 2-week shutdown of its football and hockey programs. Roughly 1.5 months later, we now know that one shutdown doesn’t wipe a college program clean of this virus.
In other words, Wisconsin won’t be out of the woods when it reopens its facilities. Nobody in the B1G will be out of the woods. If you thought the Badgers closing up shop for a week sent the masses into a frenzy, what do you think the response will be if Heisman Trophy-hopeful Justin Fields and the Playoff-hopeful Buckeyes are forced to miss a game or 2?
Fingers crossed that we don’t have to face that reality.
Those words seem to describe the B1G’s leadership a bit too much these days. It described the conference when it reportedly started discussing spring football in August the same week that it made an unprecedented announcement to punt on fall football. We mustn’t forget that actually happened 5 months post-sports shutdown:
Last night, the Big Ten began hypothetically discussing what teams would do in the fall *if* the season got moved to the spring. It was contentious, as the bigger programs still want to play this fall. It marked one of the first hypothetical conversations about this topic.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) August 11, 2020
That’s why this is all maddening. Instead of rolling with the punches as the ACC, Big 12 and SEC have been able to do in order to play football during a pandemic, the B1G decided to not give itself any flexibility. Why? It prematurely came to a conclusion without planning the next possible steps.
The B1G wanted to be at the forefront of how a major athletics conference should handle a pandemic. It made it a point to be on the extreme side of player safety and myocarditis, which was all well and good. This is unprecedented for all parties.
But waffling created a reality in which the season is going to be impacted in a significant way. We knew back in August that the B1G was in trouble. It took until late-October for the conference’s messy 2020 to somehow get even messier.
And they’ve got nobody to blame.