Maybe the Big Ten had it right the first time. Over the summer, when the fate of the upcoming 2020 season was still anyone’s guess, the Big Ten joined the Pac-12 in scrapping its fall football schedule. Both conferences eventually reversed course, electing to stage condensed seasons beginning in late October/early November. What’s ensued has been a month of scheduling Hell with schools experiencing mass cancellations amid rising COVID cases.
The Big Ten probably should have seen this spike coming—the football calendar just so happens to coincide with flu season. But alas, the damage has already been done with 18th-ranked Wisconsin now ineligible for the Big Ten Championship after having three of its games canceled including Saturday’s highly anticipated matchup with Minnesota.
No Paul Bunyan Axe will be awarded this year with much of the Minnesota team under quarantine following a rash of positive tests. Big Ten rules specify that in order to be eligible for the conference championship, a school must compete in at least six conference games. With only two games remaining—Wisconsin hosts 12th-ranked Indiana next Saturday before closing out its Big Ten slate at Iowa the following week—the 2-1 Badgers will max out at five conference games, barring further cancellations.
Undefeated Ohio State, ranked third nationally behind only Alabama (who is set to square off with in-state rival Auburn in Saturday’s Iron Bowl) and Notre Dame, is also in danger of not playing enough games to qualify for next month’s Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. The Buckeyes have had two of their last three games called off due to COVID including Saturday’s showdown with Illinois, leaving the reigning Big Ten champs in a precarious position. If either of Ohio State’s final two games against Michigan and Michigan State are canceled, the 4-0 Buckeyes will join Wisconsin in falling short of the required six games for conference championship eligibility. Ohio State could, in that scenario, still qualify for the four-team College Football Playoff, assuming OSU remains undefeated.
With team activities in Columbus paused indefinitely—head coach Ryan Day was among several Buckeyes to test positive for the virus—Ohio State finds itself in a race against the clock, needing enough healthy bodies to ensure next week’s game at Michigan State goes on as scheduled. If the Buckeyes fail to reach the six-game minimum, Indiana would be the favorite to take their place in December 19th’s Big Ten title game at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Hoosiers would likely be opposed by undefeated Northwestern.