A bad day for Indiana, Purdue and the Bucket
Indiana has experienced bad days.
It gave up 83 points to Wisconsin a decade ago.
Two years before, it allowed 62 in a loss at Purdue. In 1999, the Badgers beat the Hoosiers 59-0, and a year later, Michigan whooped them 58-0. So yeah, Indiana has had bad days. It’s had bad seasons, too. Heck, it wouldn’t mind nuking most of the ’70s from its record book.
But Wednesday was a different kind of hurt, maybe because the news took place away from the field and came in the midst of the Hoosiers’ best season in more than 30 years. First, Indiana learned the Big Ten changed its rules, allowing Ohio State to be the East Division’s representative in the conference championship game Dec. 19 in Indianapolis. Then, Indiana and Purdue mutually agreed to cancel Saturday’s Old Oaken Bucket game as the rivals announced in simultaneous tweets on Wednesday afternoon.
Gone was a chance, the best chance the Hoosiers have had since the early ’90s, to really put a hurtin’ on their enemy from the North. Indiana opened as a 14-point favorite (although the line had moved to minus-9 as of Tuesday), an atypically large margin for IU in an in-state rivalry that not all that long ago was dominated by the Boilermakers. From 1997-2012, it was all Purdue — first Joe Tiller’s squads, then Danny Hope’s — as the Boilermakers won 13 of 16 Old Oaken Buckets.
But it’s turned in the years since. Indiana has won 5 of the last 7, including 4 in a row from 2013-17, and felt as though Saturday would be the day to validate its claim as the superior program heading into the 2020s.
No chance now.
Nor is there a path to the Big Ten Championship. Before this COVID-delayed season, the league set a rule for minimum games played to qualify for the title game. It was set for 6, based on the average number of games played by everyone in the conference. But Ohio State, because it had not played previous games to Maryland, Illinois and now Michigan, isn’t going to hit the threshold.
In an effort to get the Buckeyes into the title game — the Buckeyes are 5-0 and No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings — the Big Ten reneged on its rule.
(As a quick aside: The reversal is the latest for what has been a complete failure by the Big Ten. It messed up in August, when it delayed the start of the season, then messed up the restart by not including any cushion in the schedule and now has messed up the end. Fail).
Look, Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten. It’s the only undefeated team, even in 5 games (although it almost certainly would have beaten the 3 canceled opponents, probably easily), and beat the second-best team, at least in the East, in the Hoosiers. Yet, IU can stake a claim as well, considering it was 6-1, dominated many of the opponents on its schedule, took OSU to the final minutes and met the Big Ten mandate for minimum games.
Purdue can’t be happy about this either, one would hope.
Saturday represented perhaps the last opportunity to salvage something in an otherwise lost season. The Boilermakers have lost 4 straight after a Northwestern game last month that was billed as one for control of the West Division. It was, I suppose. Only we didn’t know that Purdue would start on a losing streak that would cover 4 weekends. Now, the Boilermakers, at 2-4, have nothing left to play for but a chance to get better and pride. The opportunity to regain some was taken away by rising COVID-19 numbers, not only on its own roster, but at IU, too.
So here we are, the Bucket idled for a year. It’s the first time the game hasn’t been played since the Spanish Flu season of 1919, one global pandemic ago. Hopefully, once we get going again, we can enjoy at least another 100 years of rivalry.