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Money drove Big Ten (eventually) to get it right and choose Ohio State for title game | Mike Jensen

By the rules originally set forth for this season, Indiana would advance to the Big Ten title game. But even the Hoosiers know that the Buckeyes, who beat Indiana, deserve the bid.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (center) celebrates a touchdown against Michigan State.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (center) celebrates a touchdown against Michigan State.Read moreGregory Shamus / MCT

Announcement this week from the Big Ten: “The Big Ten Conference Administrators Council, which includes the Directors of Athletics and Senior Women Administrators from all 14 member institutions, voted today to eliminate the minimum-game requirement for participation in the 2020 Big Ten Football Championship Game. The decision was made in collaboration with the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors and the conference office.”

Translation: We messed up, mere weeks ago, and so we’re cleaning it up.

The big mistake, which the Big Ten seems to specialize in this year, is not being able to see around the corner. Mandating a minimum-game requirement to get in the Big Ten title game, while at the same time forbidding schools from going outside the conference to schedule games even if they lose games to COVID-19. That double play sounded dumb at the time.

The Big Ten would have gotten away with the lack of foresight — hey, who can predict anything in 2020? — except its lone undefeated team, mighty Ohio State, didn’t get to the minimum six games, falling one short when Saturday’s Michigan-Ohio State game … of all games … got canceled.

By the rules set forth for this season, Indiana would advance to the title game.

You couldn’t blame Hoosiers fans for making an argument — hey, rules are rules, bring on Northwestern — but the school accepted the finding, noting in a statement that it had a chance to earn its way to the title game on the field and fell just short.

You have to love what the 6-1 Hoosiers have accomplished this season, but this isn’t much of an argument: “We should be in the title game instead of that undefeated team that beat us.”

To those who say this is just about money, and the millions that would be left on the table if Ohio State didn’t make it to the four-team national playoff … well, yeah.

Last we checked, in the middle of this pandemic, budgets aren’t tight, they’re gone. Athletic directors have the figures right in front of them. The official communiqué says the ADs collaborated with the presidents. Let’s imagine that collaboration:

“So, if Ohio State doesn’t make it to the national playoff, we’re going to have to cut men’s and women’s soccer …”

“Can’t we cut something else?”

“Sure, field hockey, volleyball, track and field, you pick.”

“OK, OK, go Buckeyes.”

This isn’t even a cynical viewpoint. They picked the more accomplished team for an important reason.

Big Ten types — the same group of folks that originally said no football, then all right, just league football, plus the postseason, of course — all but mocked league member Nebraska for trying to schedule a game out of conference with the University of Chattanooga after the Cornhuskers lost a league game with Wisconsin because of a COVID outbreak within the Badgers program.

“We were in talks,” Chattanooga athletic director Mark Wharton told in October. “There were many levels of approval through the Big Ten. We lost on the final approval.”

As of today, it isn’t just Ohio State that has played five games. Maryland has played just four. Wisconsin has played four. Minnesota has played five. Call that initial six-game minimum requirement a fairly epic fail.

In the meantime, hoop season has begun, and Big Ten schools, like everyone trying to play and dealing with cancellations, are scheduling nonconference hoop games on the fly. Admittedly, the NCAA, in its own questionable wisdom, mandated that every Division I school play a handful of nonconference games to be eligible for March Madness.

Where is the thread of logic between Big Ten football and hoops requirements. (Correct answer, as always: follow the $$$.)

Nothing says 2020 in the Big Ten quite like canceling Ohio State-Michigan, the annual centerpiece of league play, regardless of records or how many times in a row the Buckeyes take out the Wolverines. In its announcement, the Big Ten pointed out that Ohio State could have lost to Michigan and still had the best record in the Big Ten East. True, but it wasn’t a forfeit, just a cancellation due to Michigan’s COVID issues. The rules had to be changed.

Pesky Nebraska had mentioned the possibility of falling short on games back when the school was trying to play Chattanooga. In hindsight, they probably weren’t talking about themselves. At that point, they’d already lost to the Buckeyes by 52-17. They had to know who could get to the Big Dance and maybe help everyone out a little. Indiana might not love it, but they will cash the check.