The biggest hurdle in Ohio State's path to Playoff is Big Ten leadership
The Big Ten is in its worst-case scenario with Ohio State’s game against Michigan getting canceled, potentially leaving the Buckeyes with only 5 regular-season games — out of the Big Ten Championship Game and possibly out of the College Football Playoff.
It’s the exact situation that everyone has been speculating about for weeks. Well, except Big Ten leaders, apparently.
When news broke Tuesday afternoon of Michigan being unable to play this weekend (the Wolverines would have been down 45 players due to COVID and injuries, per reporter Bruce Feldman), there should have been a coinciding announcement from the Big Ten about where it will go from here.
Instead, only more questions, more speculation.
Will the Big Ten rearrange its schedule? Will the Big Ten change the minimum games requirement to qualify for the title game? Will the Big Ten do anything about this at all?
Once again, the Big Ten has been caught on its heels, when it should’ve seen this coming from a mile away. We shouldn’t be speculating about the Big Ten’s move — we should already know. Yet here we are, as the Big Ten reacts on the fly. Dennis Dodd of CBSSports is reporting that Big Ten athletic directors will meet Wednesday, but they “have not yet discussed whether to consider changing qualifications for the Big Ten Championship Game.”
As COVID cases (and game cancelations) around the country began to rise a few weeks ago, the Big Ten should have put in contingency plans in order to swiftly act. Time is of the essence, as taking a day or 2 to ponder the next step and potential shifts to the schedule are only going to piss off non-Ohio State league members, and rightfully so. Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel reported Tuesday that no Big Ten programs have been asked to move games and that there would be resistance to doing so with only 2 or 3 days to prepare.
The fact that none of these things have been discussed is an indictment of Big Ten leadership and Commissioner Kevin Warren.
It’s not worth relitigating every B1G misstep from August and September, because our time is valuable and that list is way too long. But here’s the thing: All of these rules that the Big Ten has put in place, like about needing 6 games to play in the title game, don’t mean anything. The league can adjust. Remember when Warren said the decision about a fall season would not be revisited? Well, it was revisited. Some may argue that not allowing Nebraska to schedule UT-Chattanooga set a precedent. Well, that can be revisited, too.
For once, the Big Ten needs to do what is best for the league, and that is to do anything and everything to get a team in the College Football Playoff. That means finding Ohio State another game to play this week. Just because the schedule says Ohio State was supposed to play Michigan, doesn’t mean that the Buckeyes are out of luck.
There are numerous examples from Power 5 conferences adjusting midseason, because this is an unprecedented season. The ACC canceled games for Notre Dame and Clemson. The SEC has been shuffling schedules all season. The Pac-12 has pivoted after cancellations and played 2 games on Sundays.
It’s not that complicated, Big Ten.
On Nov. 11 after Alabama/LSU was postponed, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey spoke about remaining flexible. When one game gets canceled, it has a ripple effect. “And that’s going to be the reality moving forward, and the ability to adjust games and modify the schedule,” Sankey said. “And we’ve said this to our membership repeatedly: It will affect more than just the involved teams.”
Instead of no one having a clue what comes next, Sankey had been prepping them all along. That’s what a veteran commissioner will do. It’s what Warren should be doing, and the ensuing outrage at whatever move comes next should go toward Warren.
Other Big Ten coaches may be upset. Let them be. It’s their job to focus on winning games, and they don’t like last-minute changes, which is understandable. The athletic directors, like Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez, are supposed to focus on the bigger picture. That bigger picture is Ohio State reaching the CFP, which would bring the league prestige and a whole lot of money. It’s not about keeping the integrity of the original schedule to fit in the heated Rutgers/Maryland rivalry game.
Alvarez spoke last week about the need to evaluate Ohio State’s situation, if it has another game canceled. Well, that time is now, athletic directors.
There will be options this week. Purdue is pausing practice due to COVID, and that may free up Indiana. Should Ohio State play Indiana again? Probably not, but that means Indiana could play Illinois, Northwestern could play Rutgers and Ohio State could make up that canceled game against Maryland. I don’t think it’s a great idea for Ohio State to go out of conference and play someone like, say, Texas A&M, but it would be better than nothing. Worst-case scenario, tell Rutgers that it is sitting this week out.
The SEC scrapped games so that LSU could play a makeup game against Alabama.
There is a lot on the line for the Big Ten — money, prestige, reputation, etc. It can’t worry about hurting feelings. But whatever the Big Ten decides, it needs to act with much more clarity than it has at any point in 2020.