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Column: Big Ten should not change rules to help Ohio State make the title game

Obviously it would suck, but it would serve the conference right.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Despite all of the odds, it appears that Ohio State will become the first Big Ten team to cancel a game due to COVID concerns, and then be back on the field playing a game the following week. With the Saturday contest against Michigan State all but confirmed, the Buckeyes will just need to play one more game to qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 19.

That makes the news reported on Friday by the Detroit Free Press — that things are bad and getting worse inside the Michigan program — even more perilous. Reports indicate that there are 14 athletes and one staff member who have tested positive, potentially traced back to team and family gatherings celebrating Thanksgiving.

The Wolverines have already canceled tomorrow’s game against Maryland (who canceled their Week 4 game against OSU), and while there has not yet been an official decision on Dec. 12’s rivalry game between OSU and TTUN just yet, it is not looking good for the folks from Ann Arbor.

So, according to current conference rules, should The Game be canceled, Ohio State would only be able to play for a league title if another B1G team is left without a Dec. 12 opponent due to a coronavirus outbreak, giving the Buckeyes an opponent for their sixth league game of the season.

While that certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, it is a fairly tricky thing to count on, so throughout the week, a number of people have started proposing alternative options for how the Bucks could find their way into the B1G title game, presumably enhancing their chances of making the College Football Playoff (and the conference’s chances of cashing in on said playoff berth).

Buckeye Scoop’s Tony Gerdeman stated on Thursday that fans shouldn’t worry, because if OSU ended up only playing five games, that the conference would reverse course and change the rule. Now, I don’t know if Gerdeman is making an assumption or basing this on reporting (and I am in no way saying that he is wrong), but I frankly — and much to the dismay of my father who might disown me for saying this — I don’t think that the Big Ten should abandon the six-game rule just to get the Buckeyes in their title game.

I know, that’s a fairly inflammatory thing for an Ohio State fan and blogger to write, but the Bee-One-Gizzle made its bed, and they should have to lay in it. To be clear, I think that the six-game minimum is a stupid rule that should never have been put into place to begin with. I mean, I do get why it’s there — to prevent a 3-0 team from making the title game over a 7-1 team, or some similar nonsense — and I understand and generally support that line of thinking. But, seven weeks into an eight-game regular season isn’t the time to pull the rug out from underneath everybody who has been operating under a given set of rules for the past two months.

The Big Ten, with all of their big consortium brains, should have been able to foresee situations like this potentially arising; especially considering that it appears that Ohio State will only be responsible for one of their potential three cancelations. The league should have come up with a more wholistic approach to determining a champion that didn’t incentivize playing games when medical science advocated against it. Fortunately, there hasn’t been any reporting to indicate that any schools have done that, but it was a haphazard, reckless, and irresponsible rule to ever put in place, because of the potential it had to value playing games over the health of the actual real-life human beings that the conference is supposedly in place to advocate for.

So, yes, it would suck (for both players and fans) if Ohio State only played five regular season games and couldn’t compete for its fourth-straight conference title, but the Big Ten has handled this entire season with unbridled arrogance and shortsightedness, and having the team that is head-and-shoulders the best program in the conference not be able to play in the league’s signature game would be a fitting end to the absolute cluster-fudge that the folks in Rosemont have wrought upon their member institutions, their players, and their fans.

But, simply changing the six-game minimum isn’t the only idea out there. On Friday, Ari Wasserman from The Athletic proposed that if Michigan does need to cancel Dec. 12’s rivalry game, and the East and West division champions are confirmed following Saturday’s slate, that the B1G should simply move the title game up a weekend, and reschedule The Game for Dec. 19, on the date when all teams are already planning on playing in the league’s Champions Week.

Now, this idea is creative, outside-the-box, and just weird enough to feel appropriate during this hellacious year. But, again, with all due respect, I don’t think that the Big Ten should do this. Can you imagine the outcry from far and wide about the B1G’s corruption if they not only changed their rules, but blew up their entire schedule just to accommodate Ohio State?

I mean, I would kind of revel in the astronomical levels of hate that would be hurled at the conference, program, and fandom, but it wouldn’t serve the institution longterm. Think of it this way; in recent years, Buckeye fans have become obsessed with increasingly outlandish conspiracy theories about how everyone from ESPN to referee cabals to the College Football Playoff committee is single-mindedly set on the destruction of Ohio State; not only have they embraced these wackadoo ideas, but they have done so with a terrifying zeal despite having literally no actual evidence that any of them are true.

But now, when the shoe is on the other foot, we are collectively rooting for such a bold-faced move to be made in broad daylight that if something similar ever happened to Ohio State’s detriment, it would likely spark coordinated protests in every major city inside the Big Ten footprint complete with torches, pitchforks, and people chanting, “Hell no, we won’t O... HIO!”

We know that Ohio State fans don’t have the greatest reputation in the college football world — some of that is deserved, and some is just the byproduct of having, by far, the largest fan base of any blue-blood program in the sport; but, if the B1G made any drastic move that benefited the Buckeyes at the expense of a single other team, the amount of obnoxiously ass-hatted takes from the CFB blogosphere and troll-Twitter very well might force me into a permanent, self-imposed social media exile.

Of course, the B1G isn’t going to make decisions on how it crowns a champion just to save our mentions, but abandoning the agreed upon rules at the 11th hour isn’t the way to arrive at the right decision. It undermines the conference’s credibility and it delegitimizes the program’s presumed championship.

I know that having the best team play for the league title should always be the goal, but abandoning your rules at the last minute simply so said best team can get in bass-ackwards doesn’t help anyone.

If Ohio State beats Sparty on Saturday, do they deserve to be in the conference title game? Of course. Are they the league’s only viable playoff contender? Duh. But mama always said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

The Big Ten done f-ed up (multiple times) at the start of this season, and while I would love or them to get lucky and have OSU be eligible for the title game somehow, blowing up the rules that everyone has been leaning on for months is simply not the way.

Now, just so that you don’t think that I am just poo-pooing ideas put forth by other outlets, LGHL’s co-managing editor Gene Ross has been talking up an idea in our Slack channel all week that would not only get OSU to the six-game minimum, but would also restore one of their missed games against a semi-competent team.

“The Big Ten knows who pays the bills,” Ross said in comments made exclusively to Land-Grant Holy Land. “With all due respect to what Greg Schiano has been able to accomplish in helping Rutgers win... two games, it just simply doesn’t make sense for the Scarlet Knights to play a full eight game schedule while Ohio State sits at home having played only five. The B1G should thank Rutgers for their service before kicking them off the slate to allow Ohio State to play Maryland in a game that actually matters.”

Look, I get it, Rutgers has been a laughingstock for years, but they’re a program that is trying to turn things around. They didn’t do anything wrong that should force them to lose a game from their schedule. Coaches always talk about how important getting game snaps is to a team’s development; the Scarlet Knights don’t deserve to have their development hampered simply because their very own conference doesn’t respect them.

Ultimately, the Big Ten screwed the pooch on how they handled scheduling a season during a pandemic. They were unsurprisingly stubborn and that led directly to a season with no open dates in order to reschedule games, inflexible protocols that didn’t adapt to changing medical information, piss-poor rules on determining a champion, and many other improvident decisions that did not serve the good of the order.

Yes, it would be a miscarriage of the league’s responsibilities if they had anyone other than an undefeated Ohio State team represent the B1G East in the conference’s title game, but you know what? Sometimes a child has to touch a hot stove in order to learn that it burns.

So, Big Ten, while I hope this nightmare scenario doesn’t come to fruition, if you end up giving us a sub-optimal championship game — leading to potentially being left out of the College Football Playoff — then you will only have yourself to blame, and hopefully this will serve as the wakeup call that you need to re-evaluate the haughty way in which you approach... well, everything.

After some unexpected start and stops, I am back to posting a column every single day from preseason camp until whenever Ohio State’s football season ends. Some days they will be longer and in depth, some days they will be short and sweet. Let me know what you think of this one, and what you’d like to see me discuss in the comments or on Twitter. Go Bucks!