According to Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel, the Big Ten conference will take the scissors to its impractical (read: asinine) six-game minimum policy to assure a spot in the conference championship game for B1G behemoth Ohio State.
The Buckeyes, ranked No. 4 nationally, were facing a freeze-out. But if the vote of conference athletic directors goes as expected, Ohio State will be free to play Northwestern for the Big Ten title on Dec. 19.
Ohio State has a handsome 5-0 record and massive talent. But rules are rules when the people who make the rules insist on enforcing them. Just don’t assume that the rules will hold up. In such a high-finance culture, policies are made to be shredded.
The six-game minimum wasn’t a big deal, after all. The “rule” was easy to rescind. Just call an audible. The Buckeyes were sacked for a loss when Michigan canceled Saturday’s annual blood-rivalry battle because (what else?) a serious Covid-19 outbreak.
Fake panic ensued.
How would Ohio State come up with the necessary sixth game?
Or did it really matter? (No.)
The Buckeyes are in firm position to receive an invitation to the CFB four-team playoffs. And the playoff selection committee wasn’t hung up on minimum requirements or conference championship rings. If the committee wants a certain team in there, it’s done. But if the committee wants to play politics and exclude a team worthy of selection ,.. well, just watch them spin and shift the standards.
In this instance it’s almost certainly a done deal as long as Ohio State beats Northwestern.
The B1G athletic directors are right to bend the rules to strengthen their strongest team’s resume to impress the playoff committee. Ohio State is one of the top four teams right now, but winning another game would provide some protection. I know it sounds silly, but if the committee has any doubt the anxiety would be calmed by a 6-0 Big Ten champion. That looks better than a 5-0 non-champ.
What about Indiana, the second-best team in the B1G East?
Is this fair to the Hoosiers? After all they’ve faced more risk while playing eight games. IU fans are growling. I get it. But I’d also point out that Indiana had a crack at Ohio State and lost the game.
We’re living in strange times.
If the PGA can play the Masters in November … if the Triple Crown thoroughbred series can run the hallowed Kentucky Derby in September … if the NBA and the NHL can set up their teams to play all games in isolated, protective bubbles … if MLB can expand the playoffs and play the league championship series in two venues (instead of customary four) … if MLB can stage the World Series in one ballpark only … then I don’t care what it takes to get Ohio State into the Big Ten title game.
Life — sports too — during a raging pandemic requires many deviations from the norm. Making adjustments. Being flexible at all times. Making the best of a terrible situation, even if it means altering the established rules and regulations and ripping up the carefully drawn designs.
Truth is, rookie Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren put the conference in this avoidable mess by prematurely calling off the season on Aug. 11. The B1G has been scrambling and playing catch-up ever since reversing course and returning — trying to fit in eight games per team after belatedly launching the season on Oct. 24. With very little cushion to fall back on, the Big Ten was especially vulnerable to schedule disruptions caused by Covid-19 cancellations.
So what’s the point of trying to stick with the original format? Covid isn’t interested in our plans. Covid doesn’t play by the rules. Everything has been turned upside down. All we can do is try to find a way to keep going. This applies to health and safety. This applies to vulnerable businesses that are desperately trying to hang on. This also applies to sports — as long as these leagues, pro and collegiate, insist on having the games go on.
That’s a value judgement for another day. But no one who has paid attention to big-time college sports should be surprised by any decision based on a money grab. These games pay a lot of bills on college campuses.
So that’s why so many university presidents are OK with sending the “student-athletes” into the maze and haze of a menacing virus to bring home the money. If you are looking for neat and tidy and wholesome and seeing things clearly with sharp moral clarity — well, good luck with that. There’s a reason why “Follow The Money” became such a familiar expression in our culture.
Ohio State represents the conference’s best hope of winning the national championship. And just getting Ohio State into the playoff field will mean a huge payday for all conference members In this brazen cash-chasing context it would be spectacularly stupid to penalize Ohio State for the chaotic and unpredictable damage caused by the first U.S. pandemic since 1918. Not with so much money at stake for Ohio State and its conference brethren. They don’t need no stinking policy, even with Covid all over the place — unless it’s a life-insurance policy.
Thanks for reading …