The Big Ten is officially back. As of Wednesday evening, the conference announced it had switched course, and intends to play fall sports in 2020. This comes on the heels of mounting pressure from players, coaches, fans, and media to salvage a season. On top of that, regional politicians helped the movement gain traction as well.
A lot rests on the plan of a Big Ten football season this fall. Just six week ago, hope of a season was shattered. Recently appointed Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren announced a postponement of fall sports on August 11th. Furthermore, he stated there would be no revisiting of the decision. As we’ve come to expect in 2020 however, there are no sure things.
The Initial Decision
As touched on earlier, the Big Ten and Pac 12 initially decided to postpone fall with an eye on playing in the Spring. With that decision, many pundits and fans alike assumed it was the nail in the coffin for college football in 2020. That was until the rest of college football landscape called their bluff. Spearheaded by the ACC and SEC, several conferences dove into this unknown pandemic college sports world. So in a world of unknowns, they pressed forward.
The ACC, SEC, and Big 12 all announced protocols for their seasons, among which were conference-only seasons, limited non-conference schedules, and medically advised protocols for athletes and staff.
As the season has now progressed to week three, there have been successes, and setbacks. Multiple programs have had to postpone football activities, including games, as a result of COVID positive tests and subsequent contact tracing. However, there have been roaring successes. Across the country, the protocols at face value look like they have been effective. Those who pressed forward with their seasons have proved to this point, that playing is possible.
Given the already mounting evidence that college football can be played in a pandemic world, the Big Ten faced even more pressure from its own constituents. Spearheaded by the likes of Scott Frost and Nebraska, coupled with Ryan Day and Ohio State, schools began to stoke the fires of a return to the field. As the unrest grew even more apparent, leadership in the Big Ten faced no other option than to look at the latest iteration of data from its medical experts regarding COVID-19 and the intersection of collegiate athletics. As a result, with this new data, enhanced protocols, and continuing evidence that playing is possible, a re-vote was scheduled.
The season will be an 8+1 format. There will be eight regular season games, culminating with the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis on December 19th. But all teams will be playing a ninth game on that date. The second place team from both divisions will play against each other. So will the third place teams, etc. This also means no byes. There is nowhere to move postponed games. The nine games opens the door for an Ohio State or Wisconsin to stake a claim to a playoff spot.
All of this of course is subject to change as they go along. And the actual schedules have yet to be announced. However, the prospects of an eight or nine week sprint to the finish campaign sounds incredibly exciting for Big Ten fans.
How Is Wisconsin Affected?
Lastly, how does this affect the Wisconsin Badgers. An eight week season made up of opponents on the previous iteration of the schedules released before the postponement would be ideal for Badgers. This would allow for them to avoid most notably Ohio State and Penn State.
In this unequivocally unique season of college football, this may just be Wisconsin’s best chance at making the playoff. If they run the table for the first eight games all bets are on the table. Of course you’d be remiss to look that far ahead at this point.
For now, the Big Ten is back, and the college football world has suddenly gotten a lot brighter in 2020.