Big Ten must choose between integrity and commerce if reevaluating minimum requirement for title game


Let’s cut through the COVID-19. If there is an undefeated Ohio State out there for the College Football Playoff to consider on Dec. 19, the Buckeyes have a heck of a chance of getting into the four-team field.

It’s how we get to here from there that matters.

Ohio State vs. Michigan was canceled Tuesday; one of college football’s biggest rivalry games will not be played for the first time since World War I, unleashing torrents of sorrow and fountains of speculation. Even in an empty stadium, it was promising to be great theater. Especially when Ryan Day promised to “hang 100” on the Wolverines.

But now, here we are once again in college athletics at the intersection of commerce and integrity. Ohio State is probably in the CFP regardless as long as it stays undefeated, but just to make sure, it would be nice if they got there as Big Ten champions. The Big Ten Championship Game is Dec. 19. The CFP’s Selection Sunday is a day later.

In good faith, the Big Ten decided in September to protect the integrity of its championship game by requiring the participants play at least six of their eight scheduled games. The league’s athletic directors, coaches and presidents decided unanimously on that point, sources told CBS Sports.

Now the athletic directors face the prospect of contemplating whether to rescind that requirement in the name of … what, exactly? Money, for sure. Ohio State would have a smoother path to the playoff and a payday for the Big Ten by winning the conference title.

In another sign of it being the weirdest year ever, the Michigan AD actually advocated for the Buckeyes getting in without playing six games. “I would be open — and I think the conference would be open — to having a discussion about whether or not we should make adjustments,” Warde Manuel said.

That was probably a preview into a Wednesday morning Big Ten call where the subject will almost assuredly be discussed. At stake is the $6 million each playoff team receives. Currently lacking is the money the Big Ten would have received from Fox for televising Buckeyes vs. Wolverines.

You can see which way that discussion might be headed.

“No one has ever played collegiate sports during the middle of a pandemic,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said.

That’s a reference to the many obstacles the game’s stakeholders have fought through to get to this point. Digested another way, it’s a question of whether the games should have been played.

But faced with the prospect of its best team missing the CFP, Big Ten officials have an important decision to make. There is no doubt the Buckeyes are good enough. But at some point, teams have to play games and earn their way in. Only three teams in the CFP Rankings have played fewer games than Ohio State’s five. The highest ranked in that group is USC at 15th.

The Buckeyes could be going head-to-head for a CFP at-large spot with No. 5 Texas A&M (7-1) and No. 7 Cincinnati (8-0). With Ohio State in the mix as a Big Ten champion, that conversation would be muted.

But what do you tell Indiana players who would be in the Big Ten title game if the league stuck to its original decision? The Hoosiers will be East champions if Ohio State doesn’t qualify. The Buckeyes also beat them head-to-head.

Don’t try to make sense of it. When the stakeholders decided to play through a pandemic, they decided to run a shotgun offense first and ask questions later.

So does the Big Ten cut its own (financial) throat or change its rules? Hey, the ACC already did it, giving Notre Dame and Clemson a week off before the ACC Championship Game. The SEC refused to do the same for Alabama and Florida.

What’s the big deal?

Nothing if you’re Ohio State. Something if you’re one of those administrators who voted in good faith for the integrity of the Big Ten title game three months ago. The fact that Manuel was one of them perhaps provides the answer.

When it comes to CFP riches, Ohio State and Michigan being in agreement shouldn’t be a surprise.



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