Just a few weeks ago when the Gophers canceled on Wisconsin because of a COVID-19 outbreak, Badgers fans lamented how that eliminated the team from a chance at the Big Ten championship game. With a shortened schedule of just eight games before the title match, the conference had decreed teams needed to play at least six to remain eligible. The Badgers, who had missed two prior games from their own outbreak, were out of luck.
At the time, there wasn't a big fuss, since the Badgers had just lost to then-undefeated Northwestern, placing the West title a little further out of reach. There certainly wasn't a vociferous demand to cut the Badgers a break and lower the threshold.
No, that didn't come until this week for the conference's prized ponies, er, Buckeyes.
When Michigan canceled its game against Ohio State set for this weekend, it also handed the Buckeyes their third no-contest after the team missed two other games from Maryland's shutdown and its own. In fact, Ohio State had done what no other Big Ten team with an outbreak has managed and missed just one game instead of two in a row, turning around to beat Michigan State a week ago despite more than 20 absent players because of positive tests, close contact or injuries.
Ohio State, at 5-0, likely needs to win the Big Ten championship to qualify for the College Football Playoff, where it currently clings to that No. 4 semifinal spot in the most recent rankings. All the teams ahead of it — Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson — have played more games.
If the Big Ten had followed its own rules, Ohio State's slate of meaningful games would be done, as would the conference's hopes of a national title. But coming from the conference that issued a schedule this summer only to cancel the season days later only to reinstate the season weeks later, the fact that it didn't shouldn't shock anyone.
The Big Ten (virtually) gathered its presidents and athletic directors from all 14 schools this week and voted to dispatch of the minimum-game requirement, thus clearing Ohio State's path to face Northwestern on Nov. 19. The Wildcats, coincidentally, earned their spot in the title game when the Gophers canceled on them this past weekend.
If only 6-1 Indiana could have been as fortunate to luck into that game.
"The decision was based on a competitive analysis which determined that Ohio State would have advanced to the Big Ten Football Championship game based on its undefeated record and head-to-head victory over Indiana," the conference's statement read, "regardless of a win or loss against Michigan."
That's all true. And probably no one would dispute the offensively sublime Buckeyes are the top team in the Big Ten. Ohio State coach Ryan Day said on his radio show this week his team was "devastated" at the canceled game because the players can't just "get that kind of news and move on."
Well, they didn't. And neither did the Big Ten. So everyone can breathe "a sigh of relief," as Day said, that all is right in the world with Ohio State enjoying life as a blue blood and the conference remaining incapable of sticking to its word.
As another tried-and-true cliché says, "nice guys finish last." And in the world of Power Five football, the Big Ten will do anything not to lose.