Once Michigan canceled its matchup with No. 4 Ohio State due to a rise in COVID-19 cases within its program on Tuesday, Twitter came alive with theories that Michigan was just trying to avoid humiliation on a national stage — as if that hadn’t already happened four times this year.
I’d love to have the brand of confidence that lets Buckeye fans think their football team is more intimidating than a lethal respiratory disease, but I’m not here to pass moral judgments.
Instead, I want to contemplate whether the Big Ten will follow its existing guidelines for the 2020 season, which would bar an Ohio State crew with only five outings on its resume from playing in the conference championship against No. 14 Northwestern.
Obviously, it’d be cool to see IU and Northwestern — historically the untouchables of the Big Ten — duke it out for conference supremacy, but I realize that won’t do great for television ratings. Fox needs the mass viewership that only the Buckeyes’ devoted nationwide fan base of non-alumni can provide.
On one hand, the Big Ten’s argument for rewriting its own rule book is clear. Ohio State is almost certainly the premier program in the conference, with largely dominant on-field performances and a 42-35 victory over its closest contender, IU.
However, this entire line of thought is based on the goal of putting a Big Ten representative in the playoff, which, in my humble opinion, is a patently uninteresting way to approach college football.
The playoff is probably the most effective tool we have for determining the best unit in the country, but it’s terrible at fostering an enjoyable bowl season.
Fringe schools who fail to make the prized group of four end up in major bowl games, then rest their starters or come out flat and rob audiences of what could have been really exciting contests.
Simply put, no matter how satisfying the playoff is, it makes for lousy television elsewhere.
I can’t imagine it’s fun supporting Clemson University or the University of Alabama or even Ohio State, with each year being championship or bust. Chasing an elusive pleasure while numbing my senses to anything short of pure euphoria doesn't sound like a healthy lifestyle.
Ultimately, if the powers that be want Ohio State in the playoff so badly, they will let the Buckeyes in. The Big Ten offering Northwestern as a sacrificial lamb to get Ohio State its coveted sixth victory won’t change anything.
Meanwhile, if the Big Ten’s mission is to give its two best teams the chance to compete for a conference title, it absolutely makes sense to put Ohio State in the championship game. That said, the notion that Ohio State versus Northwestern is the ideal method to decide a champion is kind of absurd.
Sure, IU and Ohio State have already faced off this year, but those three hours were far more engaging than the blowouts Ohio State dealt Northwestern the last two seasons.
It’s fascinating how spectators and analysts are so quick to get down on their hands and knees to inspect footprints in the carpet while willfully ignoring the massive elephant in the room which left those very prints.
What sort of M.C. Escher painting is the playoff committee going to draw up that reasonably puts the 6-0 Buckeyes in the same bracket as three squads with double-digit wins?
Considering our country is running a fullback dive directly into record totals of coronavirus cases, there might not even be a playoff. Why not make every matchup on the road to that murky future as entertaining as possible?
Worst-case scenario, IU gets utterly flattened and is the butt of many a joke for a weekend. If I were the Big Ten, I’d happily take a break from my role as college football’s most laughable clown.