On August 11th, 2020, the Big Ten announced that it was cancelling its fall football season. It was the first Power 5 league to do so.
The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward. As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall. – Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren
Speed forward just over a month, to Sept. 16th, and the Big Ten (after the ACC and Big 12 had already begun play and the SEC was scheduled to kick off on Sept. 26th, reversed course and announced it would – after instituting a rigorous COVID-19 protocol – start its season on Oct. 23rd. According to a statement from Dr. Jim Borchers – the co-chair of the return to competition task force’s medical committee (who just so happens to also be the head physician at Ohio State):
Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities.
The plan was to play eight games in eight weeks, with all roads leading to the Big Ten title game on Dec. 19th, conveniently scheduled just one day before the College Football Playoff committee was to decide which teams were selected for its bracket. To qualify for the conference championship game, a team was required to have played in at least six games.
By the time the Big Ten finally hit the field it was technically Week 8 of the season. The ACC and Big 12 had been in action for six weeks and the SEC had been playing for four.
Ohio State – before taking a single snap – entered the fray ranked No. 5 in the Week 8 AP poll. It beat Nebraska on Oct. 24, then (18) Penn State on Oct. 31, and Rutgers on Nov. 7. Its game at Maryland – slated for Nov. 14 – was cancelled. That led to its narrow 42-35 win vs. (9) Indiana on Nov. 21. Three days later, on Nov. 24, Ohio State – at 4-0 – debuted at No. 4 in the initial CFP rankings.
The Buckeyes held that spot after not playing a game at Illinois (scheduled for Nov. 28), winning at Michigan State (Dec. 5), and then missing out on its annual clash with Michigan (slated for Dec. 12).
With the “regular” season done OSU was 5-0, one game shy of the required number of games to participate in the Big Ten title game. Rather than replace the Bucks, the conference – in its second of at least three key reversals – changed its mind and ruled to eliminate the six-game requirement.
The decision was based on a competitive analysis which determined that Ohio State would have advanced to the Big Ten Football Championship Game based on its undefeated record and head-to-head victory over Indiana regardless of a win or loss against Michigan…The conference continues to prioritize the health and safety of our student-athletes and remains flexible and united with its 14 member institutions and partners during these unprecedented times.
A 22-10 win over then (15) Northwestern in the Big Ten title game was all it took for the CFP committee to promote Ohio State to No. 3 in its final rankings. That set up a Semifinal game vs. (2) Clemson instead of the head-to-head battle with (1) Alabama which would have occurred had the Buckeyes remained at No. 4.
According to the CFP committee’s infamous “eye test” (the Big Ten calls it a “competitive analysis”), apparently, Ohio State just “looked like a Playoff team.”
Though it’s easy to leap ahead to Ohio State’s dominant performance vs. Clemson – a shocking yet well-deserved 49-28 triumph – the Big Ten reversed another key decision before that game even kicked off.
According to a Dec. 20th tweet from ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg.
Big Ten players who test positive for COVID-19 will only be required to miss 17 days, a reduction from 21, according to a document obtained by ESPN showing new policy from B1G’s return to competition task force medical subcommittee. Same cardiac protocols will remain.
This decision – made by the same committee (led by Ohio State’s head physician) who aided in the reversal of the decision to cancel the season – magically opened the flood gates for several key Buckeyes (who were stuck in the COVID protocol and wouldn’t have been able to play otherwise) to return to action. This number, critically, included wide receiver Chris Olave, who did not play in the narrow win over Northwestern in the Big Ten title game but was now made eligible.
The result? Olave led the team with six catches for 132 yards and two scores in the win over Clemson.
While you cannot deny Ohio State’s on-field brilliance, and dominance, in its win over Clemson, how it secured its place to compete for a national championship warrants discussion.
The Big Ten did whatever it took – including reversing three of its own decisions (one of which Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said “would not be revisited”) – to get Ohio State – its best hope of winning a national championship – into contention. Then the CFP committee did the rest, that despite the Buckeyes playing just five regular season games – four against opponents that finished with losing records.
Is Ohio State one of the best teams in the nation? Absolutely. And its loss to Alabama in the CFP championship doesn’t change that fact. The Buckeyes are a great football team with elite athletes. The mistake would be asserting that OSU was exposed as something other than that by the Crimson Tide. The real story is that the Big Ten, and then the CFP committee, played the role of enabler in allowing a program that didn’t qualify for the bracket to qualify.
If all that is required to prove a team’s worthiness is a “competitive analysis” or “eye test” – why even play the games?
The Big Ten – which has long held itself to a “higher standard” – sacrificed a boat load of credibility, and perhaps its prestige and honor, to get its flagship program into contention.
It may be high time to stop looking down upon, and speaking ill of, the SEC.
Amy Daughters is a contributor to FBSchedules.com.