I brought this up a little bit in my story about the Big Ten eliminating non-conference football games this Fall, but it bears repeating both on its own and as an application to other conferences: Common sense exceptions should be made to preserve big games against non-conference opponents, especially when the teams are not far apart from each other.
As a Badger, the foremost personal example in the Big Ten is Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame at Lambeau Field. South Bend and Green Bay are 300 miles apart. Madison is 480 miles from Lincoln, 390 miles from Ann Arbor, 375 miles from Bloomington, and 840 miles from College Park, Md. While most non-conference games are in September, a month that feels like it is getting thrown in the ocean by college football in an attempt to buy time, this one wasn’t until October.
Other games that they should’ve been able to figure out a solution for are Penn State – Virginia Tech and Iowa – Iowa State; Iowa senator Chuck Grassley lashed out about that game getting canceled:
Very disappointed by the Big Ten making a decision that non conference games can’t be played Don’t they realize the Cy-Hawk game is a lot more interesting than many big ten games?? Especially disappointed Iowa can’t play MY UNIVERSITY uni BIG DISAPPOINTMENT
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) July 9, 2020
People lashed out at Grassley but he’s actually not wrong, especially since the Big Ten diluted itself with Maryland and Rutgers. This decision was justified by the amount of money those programs yield for Big Ten Network carriage on the East Coast but it also means less interesting football games. (Every time I say this I have Rutgers people in my mentions; they didn’t win a single Big Ten game the last two seasons.)
In fact, with Maryland and Rutgers in the conference a plane ride away from most of the other schools, it’s hard to even justify canceling games like Ohio State-Oregon and Michigan-Washington (though, these games were in September, and would have needed to be rescheduled with the way things are going).
If you believe it’s too unsafe for football season to happen during the pandemic that’s one thing but that’s not what the Big Ten is saying when they are keeping their conference games. Grassley has a legitimate point that was shouted down because he didn’t communicate it elegantly.
As Clay pointed out, there are a number of non-conference rivalry games that are short distance and should be preserved:
Somebody explain why FSU-Florida, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville, South Carolina-Clemson, Iowa-Iowa State & other in-state non-con football games aren’t the absolute safest to play. You take a bus to the games. It’s insanely dumb to cancel all non-conference games.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) July 10, 2020
I understand a desire for fairness, but we can’t act like these games are the same as cupcake games where schools take millions of dollars to come to campus and get mushed. There are obvious differences between a game with a 47-point spread and one that features two major programs, located within driving distance, that millions of people will watch on TV.
If they have to cancel all of football season that would be one thing. It would cause all sorts of collateral damage and those who do not like football would be forced to recognize its importance. But that still isn’t what’s happening here. The wholesale cancellation of non-conference games while a season is still planned is a crazy policy and it should be reconsidered.