The Big Ten football season has been nothing short of chaotic.
From Covid-19 out breaks to game cancellations, this became very clear. The Big Ten’s initial plan to resurrect a season had little plans to deal with these issues that were bound to arise. Eventually, the straw to break the camels back came with the Ohio State/Michigan cancellation. With that cancellation, Ohio State was now ineligible to participate in the Big Ten Championship game due to not meeting the minimum games requirement. Knowing this will end the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes, the Big Ten presidents quickly came together to over turn the rule it had imposed just two months before.
Boom. Problem solved. The Buckeyes are cleared for Indianapolis.
That’s where you’re wrong.
Instead, these past few days have only amplified what many already knew about decision making in the Big Ten. They backed themselves into a corner and were forced to knock down all obstacles they had created for the season to be completed. It all begins and ends with commissioner Kevin Warren. His leadership and the collective decision-making he and his advisors has been at best, terrible.
How We Got Here
Firstly, the Big Ten’s initial cancellation of the season as a whole backed the Big Ten into a uncomfortable position. As a leader in the NCAA, they expected many to follow their lead. Many did. The PAC 12, MAC, and Mountain West all jumped in and said lets play in Spring. While nice, the plan never really had legs.
On the flip side, the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Sun Belt, and others decided they were going to wait it out. Limit non conference, decrease the amount of games, and spread out the season to account for outbreaks. They were criticized and ridiculed by many in the community. Even with that, they pressed on.
How It Has Played Out
As the season began, outbreaks occurred. Games were canceled.
And then they were rescheduled. How?
The conferences who decided to play had built in bye weeks planned to create the flexibility to move games in the event there were such outbreaks. This flexibility allowed for teams to handle these situations responsibly, and not risk their season’s playing or missing games that could affect their conference’s standings.
This success obviously became clear to the Big Ten, and rumbles of a return became louder and louder. After just five weeks, a change in stance was complete. Quickly a new schedule was set. Moreover, the Big Ten would return to the football field. Furthermore the other conferences who had initially followed suit with the Big Ten returned as well.
In a span of just eight weeks, the Big Ten has reversed course on a decision it had made on the fly. The precedent of flipping had been set. Secondly, the rules and regulations made for this season were as easy to reverse as they were to implement.
How the Season’s Have Compared
If you want a quick comparison. Just go on the ESPN app and under the college football section you’ll see a key difference for example between Big Ten and SEC games. The SEC’s games that don’t get played generally have “postponed” written next to it, while the Big Ten’s missed games have “canceled”. The only difference between the two conferences you ask? The SEC started in September. The Big Ten? Late October.
To put it simply, the teams who played starting in September have had a clear advantage in playing most if not all of the games on their schedule. In addition, their built in bye weeks have given teams added rest, or just as importantly provided a safety net to reschedule games that had been initially postponed.
On the other hand, the Big Ten schedule was an eight game, no byes, sprint to the finish. With no byes, there was no room for rescheduling. Covid-19 to say the least, did not go away. The Big Ten got hit just like every other conference that had been playing since September. The only difference is the Big Ten had no wiggle room to respond. They were backed into a corner. With rules and regulations such as minimum game requirements, no game reschedules, and non conference prohibited, a handicapped season has become ensured. Out of the 14 schools in the Big Ten, less than half will play eight games. Comparatively, every single school in the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 will will play at least eight games. Many reached double digit game totals.
Advantage: Teams who started early.
I asked in an earlier article what the plan was for the Big Ten if and when a program ran into issues with Covid-19. The answer became clear very quickly.
There wasn’t one.
Instead, Kevin Warren instituted a feigned rule regarding minimum games required to be eligible for the conference title game. For example, take Wisconsin, three of their first six games were canceled, and the Big Ten confirmed they would not be able to play in Indianapolis. Instead of considering how blind the rule was to future problems where say the conference’s crown jewel, Ohio State, would be affected, they pressed on with a fake rule in a season they didn’t want to play in the first place.
Moving forward, just three short weeks later, the Buckeyes were now ineligible for the Big Ten title game. They managed to play five games instead of the six that were required.
And that’s where the whole playbook gets thrown out on how to handle the season. In contrast to the Badgers, the Big Ten quickly threw the rule out the window. Anyone who seriously follows college football knew that the Big Ten would not allow Ohio State to miss the Big Ten Championship game because of a fraudulent rule they created. The Buckeyes are obviously the biggest brand in the Big Ten, as well almost always the best team.
Correctly so, the short sighted rule was quickly erased and Ohio State will play in the conference championship game and likely get into the College Football Playoff.
However, there is one thing that won’t be erased. The leadership credibility of Kevin Warren and the Big Ten.