Many college football insiders believed there was a possibility the Big Ten may play a conference-only football schedule this fall. Now, the idea is becoming a reality.
“If the Conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports,” the Big Ten Conference said in a statement.
This news means Minnesota will not host non-conference matchups against Florida Atlantic, Tennessee Tech and BYU. The Big Ten’s conference-only strategy limits travel distances and allows institutions to stay within their regional areas. If the COVID-19 pandemic delays the season, conference officials could now push games back a few weeks.
The Big Ten hasn’t released any specific details regarding what the schedule will look like. However, conference officials believe this approach gives them additional flexibility.
“Details for these sports will be released at a later date, while decisions on sports not listed above will continue to be evaluated,” the statement said. “By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”
If a season occurs, we don’t know how many games each Big Ten school would play. At this point, the Big Ten is still evaluating the best approaches, including whether it is even safe to play sports in the fall.
“As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate,” the statement said.
Eventually, officials may decide to play the originally scheduled nine-game conference slate over the same dates. There is also a possibility the Big Ten could eliminate or add one conference game. Right now, eight, nine and ten-game schedules all feel like possible options. Purdue insider Tom Dienhart recently suggested the possibility of a ten-game Big Ten schedule.
I recently thought about several possible conference-only options. If the Big Ten goes with an eight-game schedule, each team’s longest crossover trip could be eliminated. In the event the conference decides to play a ten-game schedule, an additional rivalry game could be added to the slate. For example, Minnesota would play an opponent like Wisconsin in both Madison and Minneapolis.
No matter what, this decision will have significant financial implications.
If other schools follow the Big Ten’s approach, FCS and low-tier Group of Five schools are going to be hit hard. Many of those programs heavily rely upon non-conference game revenue.
The Big Ten’s conference-only strategy felt like the best way to possibly pull off a season. Right now, there is so much uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. In the event a college football season is possible, the Big Ten can now develop a unified approach for safely playing games.