Commentary: Big Ten’s remade plan for the regular season has already fallen apart
The Big Ten’s inability to play even two weeks of the regular season without having a game canceled due to COVID-19 highlights the stupidity of trying to force nine games into nine weeks.
The Big Ten’s inability to play even two weeks of the regular season without having a game canceled due to COVID-19 highlights the stupidity of trying to force nine games into nine weeks in an effort to gain ground in the College Football Playoff race.
After an outbreak of cases forced Wisconsin to call off Saturday’s game against Nebraska, it’s clear the abbreviated and condensed schedule may end up doing the opposite: preventing the best teams in the Big Ten from playing enough games and putting together the resume needed to earn a place in the national semifinals.
Trying to play football amid a pandemic is trouble, period, as shown in the rash of positive results and growing list of canceled games across the Bowl Subdivision.
But the Big Ten worsened this already troublesome scenario in August by first backing out of the regular season and then coming back in September with plans to begin nearly one month after the SEC.
If the conference had stayed in step with other Power Five leagues, the Big Ten could’ve played nine or more games across three months rather than just two. As expected, the remade plan took one week to fall apart.
By trying to shoehorn a full conference schedule into the tight window, the conference erased any room for error, removed the chance to reschedule impacted games and created a scenario where the best team in one of the two divisions won’t even be eligible to play for the conference championship game.
Under the tiebreakers created for 2020, a Big Ten team must play at least six games or “no less than two fewer conference games than the average number of conference games played by all teams” to be considered for the division championship.
Take the Badgers, who were expected to win the West division and contend for a New Year’s Six bowl. At most, Wisconsin will now play seven games before the championship weekend on Dec. 19. One more cancellation — and the team is already pausing all activities for seven days per conference guidelines — would put Wisconsin right on the threshold of being ineligible to play for the Big Ten title, unless a similar run of cancellations cut into the total number of games played across the conference.
“We have said from the beginning that the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff members comes first,” Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez said in a statement.
Nebraska represents the secondary impact. Wisconsin’s season is in doubt. But the Cornhuskers, who avoided positive results, are now on a seven-game schedule.
This may be only the beginning. Already playing from behind, the Big Ten’s suddenly flimsy playoff hopes hinge on completing a full regular season. What are the odds?
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