After a week where things have been changing by the hour in the Big Ten it’s been quiet for a day. To summarize where we are: Outkick founder Clay Travis brokered a phone call with President Trump and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren where both sides wanted a swift return to play and federal testing resources were promised. Several reporters connected to programs that wanted to play forecasted a revote among conference chancellors and presidents as soon as today, but that doesn’t appear likely at the moment. Jim Harbaugh is telling players to be prepared to play in October. Iowa’s athletic director says that would take a miracle.
Ohio State, Nebraska, and Iowa definitely want to play. The Big Ten by-laws stipulate that they need 60 percent, or nine schools out of the 14 in the conference. However, it’s not like these are the Ten Commandments, written in stone. The reality is they’re fungible and the people in charge could actually change them whenever they want. Maybe a path to nine exists, but that shouldn’t be the sole determinant of whether Big Ten plays football soon.
What the Big Ten should do
Bobby Carpenter, the former linebacker for Ohio State and the Dallas Cowboys who now hosts morning drive radio in Columbus, has been advocating for a plan to let the programs that want to play do so this season and any universities that are uncomfortable with proceeding can opt out. This is just like with players — they all have to assess the risks and decide to do what they think is best for them.
Who could flip?
Now we delve into speculation.
Functionally, all the Big Ten really needs is six teams. Ohio State had that plan earlier this month where they wanted a 10-game season with five other teams — Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Michigan was said to be a “road block” because of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but she’s since reversed course with high school football and it would be insane if that were not similarly applicable for the Wolverines.
While you’d logically think Michigan State could be flipped as well, they were already facing an uphill battle this season after Mark Dantonio bailed in February and left the program in disarray. His successor Mel Tucker may one day succeed there, but this year was always going to be tough sledding.
Wisconsin and Penn State are tough to read. They both have Democrat governors, but both states are playing high school football. In the USA Today coaches poll released about a month ago, Penn State was ranked No. 7 and Wisconsin No. 12. Thus, both were expected to be competitive as per usual. There was an ominous headline from Penn State’s doctor that made the rounds yesterday, and then he clarified (and kinda recanted) the scariest part and so I have no idea what to do with that. I went to Wisconsin, but I honestly have no read on where they stand with all this.
Indiana has a Republican governor and Notre Dame is playing football, with some fans in the stands, nearby in the state. Purdue is a program on the rise with Jeff Brohm, and their president is former Republican Mitch Daniels. You could see them flipping. Indiana University is a possibility, too, but they’re not quite as likely as Purdue in my estimation.
Minnesota and Illinois are more remote chances because neither state is playing high school football. Minnesota is a program on the rise with PJ Fleck. Illinois has longtime Football Guy Lovie Smith as coach. I wouldn’t say they’re definite no’s, but it’s hard to see a world where they would say yes and Wisconsin and Penn State would say no. Northwestern, Rutgers, and Maryland are in my opinion the three least likely schools to play.
So here’s where we are in tiers as far as who could play in October:
Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa
Logic dictates yes
Hard to read but you’d think there’s a decent shot
Wisconsin, Penn State
Other teams from states where high school football is playing
Indiana, Michigan State
Doubt it but mayyyybe?
Minnesota and Illinois
Northwestern, Rutgers, Maryland
In summation, there’s definitely a path to six teams in the Big Ten. You could even get to seven or eight. The path to nine is where it gets tough, and that’s probably why we haven’t heard about a revote yet. They’re not going to revote until they know they have the votes, and they likely don’t have them yet.
The SEC, Big 12, and ACC are going to be playing 10-game conference schedules. Maybe you could bend the rules and say that, for example, an 8-0 Ohio State team deserves to make it into the playoffs if the Big Ten gets started in mid to late October. Any more than a two-game disparity is going to be make it profoundly challenging to argue a fair case for a Big Ten school to make it in.
Thus, time is of the essence. The Big Ten should move forward with the teams that want to play, and let the teams that don’t feel comfortable bow out. This 60 percent vote doesn’t need to be a binding law in such an outlier of a year, and the conference needs to be careful about alienating their most important program in Ohio State to an extent that they’ll remember when conference realignment happens again. If Big Ten is going to play football in October, they don’t have much more time to squander.