B1G debate: Should the Big Ten have prevented Nebraska from playing a nonconference game this weekend?
Editor’s note: Ryan O’Gara and Connor O’Gara grew up following sports in suburban Chicago. The brothers, separated by 20 months, debated about their favorite teams and players so often that their father would often have to remind them, “This isn’t PTI.” Each Friday, they’re bringing that debate to you, centered around the Big Ten and college football as a whole.
This week’s debate: Should the Big Ten have prevented Nebraska from playing a nonconference game this weekend?
RYAN: Here we go again. After Nebraska’s game against Wisconsin was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Badger locker room, the Huskers once again tried to step outside the Big Ten and play a nonconference game that was not originally scheduled. The Huskers attempted to get UT-Chattanooga on the schedule this weekend, but the Big Ten voted to not allow its teams to add non-B1G teams to schedule if the other team has to cancel. This comes about 2 months after Nebraska tried to continue playing a nonconference fall schedule even as the B1G pushed its season to the spring.
While those are different situations, I should have seen this coming! It’s very on-brand for Nebraska to look for a replacement. And I respect Nebraska’s desire to play, I really do. But I think the Big Ten made the right call here.
The focus has to be on the Big Ten getting in as many of its conference games as possible. Allowing a non-B1G team to come in, especially one that isn’t really playing this season, isn’t worth the potential risk and doesn’t help the Big Ten get any closer to that goal of completing its own schedule.
I do think Nebraska went about this the right way in looking for teams that have stricter testing protocols than the B1G. I also appreciated the joint statement from Bill Moos and Ronnie Green, as it was cordial and respectful of the decision while clearly explaining why they explored the idea.
One problem for the B1G down the road would be if other teams get canceled and want to play a non-B1G team, how could the conference really evaluate that opposing team to make sure the protocols are up to the league’s standard? Especially when the goal posts are constantly moving, that would be difficult.
In the interest of completing a Big Ten season, it’s best to stick with the same league-wide protocols and not worry about what other programs are doing.
CONNOR: Are we overthinking this a bit? I understand the argument of precedent. This is a time in which the league has attempted to move collectively at every turn, though clearly, that’s been a failure based on what leaked about who wanted to play and who didn’t.
Nebraska should absolutely have a chance to play Chattanooga for the exact reason you mentioned. The B1G has its testing protocols in place. If a replacement matchup can be agreed upon, why can’t that be factored in? Also, what about the precedent that’s been set across college football with other makeup games? This year has served as a reminder that athletic directors can schedule matchups in a snap, and we don’t need to have the entire schedule figured out a decade in advance. I’m pretty sure Houston scheduled 9 different opponents for September.
The B1G can pivot. It just won’t. That’s the difference. It won’t because it doesn’t want to recognize that there’s a creative solution that could help all parties here, and sure, maybe the fact that Nebraska is the team going rogue has something to do with that. But you can even get the league athletic directors to hop on a Zoom call and vote on the following. I’ll even draw up the proposal for the league.
“If a team gets a game canceled because of an opponent’s COVID results, it may reschedule a nonconference foe who agrees to and adheres to the league’s COVID protocols.”
How hard was that? This entire year is about coming up with creative solutions to address a fluid problem. By setting this precedent, what happens if Ohio State is forced to miss multiple games this year as a result of an opposing team’s COVID tests? If getting enough data out there for the Playoff selection committee is the goal, doesn’t that give you some necessary flexibility?
Oh, that’s right. I forgot. The B1G doesn’t know the word “flexibility.”
RYAN: Hahaha. You think the Big Ten cares about the precedent set by other conferences? That’s a good one. And I understand that other leagues have scheduled on the fly. The question, to the Big Ten, isn’t whether Nebraska can schedule another team, but rather whether Nebraska should. Is it worth the risk? I understand that Nebraska wants to reward its own players for their hard work by playing a real game, but how does playing a game like this benefit the Big Ten? The risk of a non-B1G program coming in doesn’t serve the B1G’s interests. I’m sympathetic to Nebraska’s frustration because this stinks. The season is already shortened, so missing out on these games stings, especially for a fan base as engaged as Nebraska’s.
I have two questions to build on this debate.
1) What if it wasn’t UT-Chatanooga coming to Lincoln and instead it was another Power 5 program with similar resources and protocols as the Big Ten? Let’s pick a random SEC team with a random defensive coordinator to come to Lincoln like… LSU. Let’s say this was last week and LSU was off because its game against Florida was canceled due to the Gators’ outbreak. Bo Pellini returning to Lincoln would do massive ratings and there would actually be something for the Big Ten to gain in terms of exposure and notoriety. What does the Big Ten say then?
2) How much of the Big Ten’s response to this situation is due to the fact that Nebraska, of all teams, is the one affected? Let’s say the roles were reversed and it was Nebraska that had the outbreak and instead Wisconsin was asking the B1G to allow it to play a random nonconference game. Would the B1G have still struck it down? I guess what I’m wondering is did Nebraska’s contentious relationship with the league have anything to do with this? Or do you think this is a principled stand by the Big Ten?
CONNOR: I have two answers to build on this debate.
1) I suppose you could limit it to Group of 5/FCS teams, but you really don’t have to. Having said that, I think those situations would be next to impossible with Power 5 teams because usually they only face each other with some sort of home-and-home or neutral site matchup. LSU isn’t going to just roll up to Lincoln because it wants to play football. And while I think Nebraska would willingly go to Death Valley, I’d say the Huskers are the exception, not the rule in terms of “play at all costs.” They have more to gain than the defending national champs. That’s why the Group of 5/FCS route makes more sense because they can gladly accept their $1.5 million check, come to Lincoln and then be on their way.
2) I’m not a “the B1G totally hates Nebraska” guy, but I do believe this would’ve been received differently if Pat Fitzgerald was behind it. Public perception is already against Nebraska, which made the decision to have a quick trigger that much easier. The Huskers don’t have that kind of power when it comes to rallying the league. Northwestern probably doesn’t either, but I’d give Fitzgerald more of a fighting chance at doing that than Scott Frost. I really do wish that we could’ve watched this play out with Ohio State. Then again, Ohio State did publicly lobby for alternate 2020 scheduling options like Nebraska, though not quite as loudly.
I have one last question for you, and I’ll let you get the last word in. I saw that they actually did put this up to a vote, so disregard my earlier point about it being put up for a vote. Why is it bad that Nebraska wants to play football?
RYAN: There’s nothing wrong with Nebraska wanting to play football. The Huskers are healthy and because that is a luxury in 2020, they want to play a game. I get it, because who knows if Nebraska will have an outbreak later and thus force future cancellations.
In the same vein, why is it bad that the Big Ten wants to stick to the guidelines it established a month ago? Why is it bad that the Big Ten wants to ensure all of its teams are playing under the same protocols the league has established? The entire purpose of going to a conference-only schedule was to control as many variables as possible, and that’s what the Big Ten is doing here.