Let’s be honest with ourselves here, who the heck wants to watch Alabama absolutely demolish and embarrass some lower-tier, non power-5 school in non-conference play anyway?
Nobody except those in Tuscaloosa. Got it. What the people want is Oregon vs. Ohio State; Washington vs. Michigan; Oregon vs. LSU. Those type of games. Games that will actually draw eyes and ratings. Games that will benefit teams in the long run rather than a “cupcake” non-conference schedule. Games that mean something.
On Thursday, Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic reported that the Big Ten conference is cancelling all non-conference play due to the coronavirus pandemic and will stick to a conference-opponent schedule this upcoming season.
The Big Ten is expected to announce today that it will go with a conference-only football schedule for this fall, a person with direct knowledge situation tells @TheAthleticCFB.— Nicole Auerbach 😷 (@NicoleAuerbach) July 9, 2020
The Big 10 made the announcement official later Thursday afternoon.
Still, no news yet what the Pac-12 conference will decide, but all signs point to following in these footsteps.
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So…. Now what?
Oregon was set to host North Dakota State and likely Hesiman candidate quarterback Trey Lance. Then, seven days later, Justin Fields and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Head coach Mario Cristobal has stated before how important it is to schedule big, meaningful games.
They want to play the best teams in the country all the time, and there is no way we're going to go away from that mentality to try to schedule down to appease—whatever, I guess I should stop there before I get in trouble, right? These guys deserve to find out how good they are by playing against the best, so we're going to continue doing that. — Mario Cristobal
After Texas A&M cancelled a home-and-home series with the Ducks for 2018 and 2019 seasons, Oregon’s rather “soft” non-conference schedule in 2018 of Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State (all at home too), was criticized all year long. Oregon turned that around immediately playing Auburn to open up the season in 2019 in a game that drew in 6.86 million viewers.
Games of that nature don’t just draw in eyes of viewers on television, but it puts the teams on national television which attracts recruits. If a head coach can promise national attention and relevance, that’s hard to pass up in the eyes of a young 17-year-old.
Now, let’s take a look at the very shaky, not-sure-what-it-will-look-like future of college football this season. We still aren’t sure what the season will look like, especially the postseason. Let’s say that all the division one schools go along with just conference opponents. This is bad news bears for the Pac-12.
Hear me out.
The Pac-12 hasn’t had a competing team in the College Football Playoff since 2015 when Oregon dismantled Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles in the CFB semifinal, but fell to Ohio State in the National Championship. The Washington Huskies were embarrassed by Alabama 24-7 in 2017.
Oregon’s 2020 Rose Bowl appearance and victory over Wisconsin was definitely nice, but it wasn't a playoff game.
So, postseason play is already a problem for the Pac-12. But, then there is the issue with late kickoff times, as well. Seven of Oregon’s nine Pac-12 conference games kickoff at 4 PM (PT) or later. Having one of the best Pac-12 team’s kickoff at 7:30 PM (or 10:30 PM on the East Coast) really hurts tv ratings and eyes across the country.
Having no non-conference schedule puts a lot more pressure on the Pac-12 during conference play.
I’d imagine the only thing that stays status quo for college football in 2020 is that the Pac12 still finds a way to miss the playoff— Todd Fuhrman (@ToddFuhrman) July 9, 2020
Here’s a look at the non-conference marquee matchups slated in the future for Oregon:
2021 - at Ohio State
2022 - at Georgia
2023 - at Texas Tech
2024 - vs. Texas Tech; Boise State
2025 - vs. Oklahoma State; at Boise State
2026 - vs. Boise State; at Oklahoma State
2027 - at Baylor
2028 - vs. Baylor
2029 - at Michigan State
2030 - vs. Michigan State
It’s sad not just for Duck fans or Buckeye fans, but for college football as a whole. It would have been great to see Oregon’s defense, which is projected to be second in the nation, go up against Heisman candidate quarterback Justin Fields. We’ll just have to wait until 2021 (hopefully).
According to Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens, he and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith have been in contact regarding the cancellation.
I appreciate Gene Smith reaching out to share the Big 10’s announcement. We agreed to have ongoing discussions about the options for rescheduling the Oregon home game in our series. — Rob Mullens
Perhaps because it was the Big 10 conference’s decision to cancel their non-conference schedule, maybe that gives Oregon some leeway in the future about rescheduling the game. Las Vegas anyone?
Ohio State’s future non-conference schedule includes a return trip to the West Coast in 2024 at Washington, so perhaps the two schools can play then? But that would also make Oregon’s 2024 non-conference opponents Texas Tech, Boise State and then Ohio State. Dang.
So, the Big Ten was the first power-5 conference to shut down non-conference play. What about the other conferences? Can you imagine the reaction if the SEC also cancelled games when football is such a prominent and important factor in SEC territory? If one conference cancels, shouldn’t they all? It is difficult to navigate these uncharted waters especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still among us.
Only a matter of time.
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