Tuesday's cancellation of the Ohio State - Michigan game does not just deprive of us one of the sport's great rivalries, it also is a big blow to the Big Ten's playoff hopes. Why was it so critical that Ohio State play a 2-4 Michigan? Because when the Big Ten returned to play, the rules of the season dictated that a team must play at least six games in order to reach the Big Ten title game. That means Tuesday's cancellation will leave the Buckeyes one game short.
Ohio State is 5-0 and will play a sixth game the week of the conference title in the league's weird cross-over rule, unless, of course, that game is also cancelled due to COVID. Is a maximum of six games and no conference title enough of a resume to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff? Maybe. The Buckeyes are clearly the best team in the conference. But then again, maybe not. That's the problem.
Tuesday's news is just the latest blow for the conference whose 2020 season has been a complete and total disaster.
The Big Ten decided to postpone the football season citing safety concerns for its players, which is fine, but rang a little insincere when the league elected to play in the fall after all just a few weeks later. The conference then made a schedule with zero open dates and has seen games canceled left and right as a result. Now its compressed schedule and arbitrary six-game cutoff may cost its best team a shot at the title and possibly the playoff.
But all may not be lost yet. In November, the conference approved a rule that said if two Big Ten teams have opponents cancel games in the same week, they can play each other. Purdue canceled practice on Tuesday due to COVID-19 and could possibly cancel its game for the weekend as well. Their opponent? Indiana.
On the one hand, playing the best team in the division and beating them twice is a boost to the resume. On the other, no one wants to see a rematch, especially with an Indiana team that is now without starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. What would a second win against them prove that the committee doesn't already know?
If the Big Ten does not do this, then the only other recourse would be to change the rules to allow Ohio State to play for the title or to allow the Buckeyes to quickly reschedule a non-conference opponent instead. This was something Nebraska tried to do earlier in the season, with a game against Chattanooga, but was denied by the conference.
Changing the rules midseason to benefit Ohio State would feel seem unsavory to some and would subject the conference to a lot of criticism. Here's my counter to that: Just do it.
Seriously, who cares? It's 2020.
The fact is, the six-game rule was an arbitrary number set by the conference in the first place. Changing that rule midseason in a season where everything changes on a daily basis is not a big deal especially when it is inarguable that Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten. We are not talking about moving a team ahead of another in the standings or negating the result of a game, we are talking about getting rid of an arbitrary rule set in place just for this season.
The ACC shuffled its schedule midseason to benefit Clemson and Notre Dame when it became clear those were the two teams headed to the conference title (the schedule change also reflected that Maimi was still in contention at the time. This should be noted so it does not seem like the rules just benefitted two teams at Miami's expense). Were some people upset? Sure, but ultimately no one cares because it's 2020 and everyone knows Clemson and Notre Dame are the ACC's two best teams. The same would be true of the Buckeyes.
Changing the six-game requirement would mean pushing Indiana out as the Hoosiers now stand to play for the conference title in Ohio State's absence. If Indiana doesn't like the league changing the rule, tough, they should have beaten Ohio State the first time. In fact, if I was in charge, I would give Indiana an ultimatum. Assuming their game against Purdue gets canceled, I would tell Indiana to play a rematch with Ohio State or don't complain when the rule changes to allow the Buckeyes to jump them in the standings.
But...but...but...you can't change the rules in the middle of the season. That's not fair!
Normally, I'd agree with you, but again, it's 2020. Also, so long as college football does not have uniform schedules, the conferences are left to fend for themselves and make their own rules and there is zero leadership in the sport, why not give your conference every advantage? And, if you are mad about this, you should be mad at the sport in general and how its complete lack of a governing commissioner has allowed this season to become the wild west.
If you don't like changing the rules, then let the Buckeyes seek out a non-conference opponent to fill out their schedule. I know the conference did not allow Nebraska to do this, but here's what I would say about that:
- Who cares what Nebraska thinks?
- Seriously, who cares if Nebraska is mad about this?
- If Nebraska is actually mad about it, remind them of how much more money the conference (and by extension, Nebraska) will make if the league has a team in the playoff.
Ohio State was ranked No. 4 in Tuesday's College Football Playoff Rankings with a 7-1 Texas A&M and 8-1 Florida hot on their heels. If the Buckeyes drop just one more spot, they are out of the playoff. They need that conference title to showcase themselves against No. 14 Northwestern as the exclamation point to their resume.