In many ways, things started on a good note. The Buckeyes had largely dodged pandemic-induced issues (whether by their own doing or by their opponents’) and the season looked like it was moving along according to plan.
When Maryland cancelled against the Buckeyes a few weeks ago, the reaction was one of frustration and disappointment. But the reality of a season being potentially lost didn’t seem all that imminent.
But with a second game cancelled in three weeks time, the level of frustration and panic ratcheted up significantly. This time the Buckeyes were dealing with the virus, including multiple players and head coach Ryan Day. The problem was bad enough that the team crossed the 7.5 percent threshold in population positivity rate, which means more than 13 cases of the 170 tested six days per week.
Ohio State is loosely “on track” to play Saturday at Michigan State because, frankly, the Buckeyes are desperate to finish the regular season with six games (and six wins, if all goes according to plan). They can’t get to the Big Ten title game without six games, unless all 14 athletic directors come together and agree to change the rules. And with Wednesday’s announcement of Michigan and Maryland’s game being cancelled because of a CoVID-outbreak in Ann Arbor, the Scarlet and Gray hopes of a Big Ten title appearance are shrinking.
Is it possible that they change the rules and try to salvage a championship game that could include the best team in the league? Yes, it’s possible. How likely is it that happens? I think that depends on how dire the situation becomes over the next seven days.
Where it gets particularly interesting to me is if (and more specifically when) Michigan decides it can’t play on Dec. 12 against the Buckeyes AND if Ohio State beats Michigan State on Saturday. Do the Buckeyes have the chance to pick up a sixth game?
Here’s a realistic scenario that I think would have to be given serious consideration:
Assuming Maryland doesn’t get an opponent this week (which is possible, but unlikely given that it’s already Wednesday), only Ohio State and Indiana will still be able to win the Big Ten East if the minimum games played rule doesn’t change.
Rutgers may not be happy about it, but their regular season finale against Maryland has no bearing on the Big Ten East champion. If Minnesota can’t get healthy enough to play next weekend, and if Michigan is unable to play Ohio State next weekend, I think the league should alter the schedule by having Rutgers play Nebraska (Minnesota’s cancelled opponent in this scenario) and have Ohio State play Maryland.
That would give the Buckeyes a sixth game, not to mention one against a team it hasn’t played yet. While this would be good for Ohio State, it would also be good for the entire conference. A 6-0 Ohio State team that makes the conference championship game ensures credibility in the Big Ten champion (regardless of who wins that game) and it gives the league the best chance of its best team being selected for the College Football Playoff.
Of course, the caveat is that Ohio State has to win the next two weeks for this to matter. The worst possible outcome for the league is an undefeated 4-0 or 5-0 Buckeyes team not playing for a league championship. If Ohio State loses one of its next two games, this is a slightly different conversation.
This has been an imperfect season from the get-go. It’s required everyone to be flexible and think outside the box. If you’re not willing to think unconventionally in a situation like this, you’re never going to come up with a creative solution to a difficult problem.
Hopefully Big Ten leadership is willing to consider this (or any other) alternative and maintain the integrity of the league championship.
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