By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With the Big Ten football season losing more legitimacy and credibility with each cancellation, it seems necessary to update my latest conference rankings:
Ohio State would fill the second spot, but why even bother?
The Buckeyes (4-0) are at risk of not playing enough games to even qualify for the Big Ten championship game, while Northwestern (5-1) just clinched the Big Ten West Division as a result of its game against Minnesota on Saturday having been canceled.
The situation has regressed to where a team gets greatly rewarded for having a game canceled due to a highly contagious virus.
Northwestern isn’t to blame for this surreal mess.
And what good is blaming anyone at this point because the damage already has been inflicted, and because opinions vary on this topic?
What can’t be disputed, however, is that the 2020 Big Ten football season is unraveling as the finish line approaches.
Wisconsin (1-2) is now ineligible to play in the Big Ten Big Ten championship game because it will fall under the required six games needed to qualify.
Only six of the Big Ten’s 14 teams have played all six games, and 4-2 Iowa is part of that group, along with Indiana (5-1), Northwestern (5-1), Michigan (2-4), Rutgers (2-4) and Penn State (1-5).
The annual border clash between Minnesota and Wisconsin was cancelled this past Saturday after several players and staffers with the Gophers’ football program tested positive for the coronavirus. Minnesota has paused all football-related activities, which makes Northwestern the West Division champion.
The Badgers and Gophers had met every year since 1890 except for 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt suspended college football rivalry games to help stem a wave of player injuries and deaths
The misery caused by the coronavirus is so widespread, and so persistent, and the circumstances are forever changing. Days are filled with uncertainty because the situation with each of the Big Ten’s 14 teams is so fluid and unpredictable.
Iowa deserves credit for making it this far with little to no disruptions. Some of it could just be luck, but much of it has to be the Iowa players, coaches and support staff following good protocol and staying diligent and aware.
Indiana could win the East Division almost by default if the Buckeyes don’t qualify. Ohio State defeated the Hoosiers 42-35 on Nov. 21 in Columbus, Ohio, but it won’t mean anything if the Buckeyes fail to qualify by playing six games.
Some want to blame the Big Ten, or more specifically, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, for waiting too long before starting the season. By starting the season in late October, the Big Ten eliminated any chance for games to be postponed to a later date.
However, in defense of Warren, he didn’t make the decision to delay the start of the season. He was acting on the advice of the Big Ten presidents and chancellors, who were acting on the advice of medical experts.
There were concerns about the long-term effects that the virus has on the heart, and daily testing still wasn’t available in the late summer and early fall, as it is now.
And it’s not as if the other conferences have been without problems, considering at least 105 games have been canceled or postponed.
Some have argued that the cancellations are an over-reaction, but every game that has been canceled or postponed was based on the advice of medical experts.
The conferences have all tried to sustain during an unprecedented event, but it’s been close to impossible under the strict guidelines, and with the virus being so contagious.
Teams have tried to make the best of a bad situation, but right now the Big Ten is struggling to hang on to any semblance of a real season.
It was also announced on Monday that Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., suffered a season-ending knee injury. So the Hoosiers could back into the Big Ten title game and be without their starting quarterback.
That’s just so 2020.