Big Ten decision to protect Ohio State’s season is the right one
The Big Ten made a business decision — and it’s the right decision.
The conference on Wednesday waived a six-game requirement to make its championship game, which will allow No. 4 Ohio State (5-0) to represent the East division against No. 14 Northwestern (5-1) on Dec. 19.
From a strictly business perspective, it makes sense. The Buckeyes get a sixth game and a chance to win a fourth straight conference championship. Ohio State likely makes another College Football Playoff appearance and will fight it out with perennial contenders in No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson.
The politics of that decision might get twisted. Did the Big Ten protect its biggest football brand? Do the Buckeyes always get their way? And, for the selection committee: Is it fair to put a team with six games in when other contenders have played into the double digits?
Let’s look at who might complain, and whether their complaints carry any weight:
Ohio State fans can’t complain. Sure, “The Game” against Michigan was canceled, but there’s no conspiracy against the Buckeyes — none of that “us against the world” stuff can be used against Ohio State as far as the Big Ten is concerned. The program is getting what it wanted when second-year coach Ryan Day pushed for a season in the first place. The Buckeyes will get their chance to get back to the CFP after losing 29-23 in the Fiesta Bowl national semifinal against Clemson last season.
The rest of the Big Ten can’t complain, either. Only three other teams in the conference have a winning record. No. 12 Indiana lost head-to-head to the Buckeyes. No. 16 Iowa lost to No. 14 Northwestern. Yeah, the Big Ten went back on a rule that was made before the season; it was a bad rule with an eight-game schedule. Iowa, Rutgers, Penn State and Iowa are the only teams that have played a full schedule, and the Buckeyes beat two of them.
Still mad? Since 2018, Ohio State has won 20 consecutive Big Ten games by an average of 26 points per game. The Wildcats are getting a chance — and if the Big Ten wants to go the extra mile it can cancel Northwestern’s game against Illinois this weekend. That would give both teams a week to prepare.
Who else will try to complain?
The ACC can’t. Notre Dame and Clemson are getting a week off before the ACC championship game. No. 10 Miami could technically finish with a better conference winning percentage than the Tigers if it beats North Carolina and Georgia Tech the next two weeks. The ACC got what it wanted.
The Big 12 can’t. No. 7 Iowa State and No. 11 Oklahoma are two-loss teams, and the Cyclones lost to Louisiana. Two-loss teams don’t make the College Football Playoff.
The Pac-12 can’t complain. No. 15 USC (4-0) has played fewer games than Ohio State and, at best, will match its six-game-total.
But you know who is going to complain.
The SEC can complain and try to wiggle either of No. 5 Texas A&M or No. 6 Florida into the Playoff next to Alabama. Advice: Go win the SEC championship game.
The Aggies lost 52-24 to Alabama. The Gators will get their chance next. But if SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told the Crimson Tide and Gators to stay home Saturday to prepare for the SEC championship next weekend, nobody would blink. Because it’s in the best interest of the conference to put your teams in position to make the Playoff — a job made more difficult with the scheduling problems created by COVID-19 pauses.
Then there’s No. 8 Cincinnati, but it’s not going to win that battle with the Buckeyes — not with that Group of 5 label. The Bearcats are behind Iowa State in the rankings right now, and Oklahoma likely will jump them if it wins the Big 12 championship game. Is that fair? Of course not. But that’s not going to change in the next two weeks.
If Florida beats Alabama, then there’s a good chance the Notre Dame-Clemson loser will get bounced from the College Football Playoff — not Ohio State. Watch it happen.
All those teams can complain, but the Big Ten can finally rest on making the right decision in a season where its previous choices have been shredded. Did the Big Ten cancel too early on Aug. 11? Did the Big Ten come back too late on Oct. 24? Those were decisions commissioner Kevin Warren tried to make amid extraordinary circumstances. Did the Big Ten do the right thing by waiving an arbitrary six-game rule that was set up to fail in an eight-game schedule?
Before you answer that, consider what keeping that rule would have done.
Indiana and Northwestern would have played in the Big Ten championship game on the same weekend Iowa would have likely traveled to Ohio State. None of those games are guaranteed, considering how much COVID-19 has impacted the schedule, but the league would have been ripped exponentially more if that decision kept the Buckeyes out of the College Football Playoff.
Anybody outside the Big Ten can complain all they want, but that mistake would have followed the Big Ten forever.
Is it the right decision? Absolutely. It puts the only undefeated team in the conference championship game. Conferences are going to do what they have to do to make sure their best teams are put in a position to succeed, and the Big Ten did what it had to do.
Is that decision fair? College football isn’t the right place to look for what’s fair — not in 2020 anyway. Until there is a playoff expansion — and maybe after — that’s going to be the leading complaint from everyone. It happens every time you try to cram 10 people into four chairs.
That isn’t the Big Ten or the Buckeyes’ problem this year. It’s about doing what’s best for the business.