For once in college athletics, chasing the pot of gold matched up seamlessly with doing the right thing.
No. 3 Ohio State will take the field in the Big Ten championship game despite playing just five games, thanks to the conference bigwigs making an impromptu adjustment to a rule that had required a team to have at least six games on its resume in order to qualify.
It is easy to be cynical about the league’s motives, to wonder if Lee Majors – the Six Million Dollar Man, for all you youngsters – had something to do with it.
The Big Ten surely wrestled with the nagging concern that it may be left out of the College Football Playoff altogether in these challenging financial times, missing out on the $6 million payday that goes to each of the four participating schools.
One pundit tweeted a picture of the supposed analysis used by the Big Ten to make its decision, which was nothing more than Ohio State (5-0, No. 4 in the CFP rankings) circled with four dollars signs beside its name.
There was only one dollar sign beside No. 8 Indiana (6-1, No. 12 CFP), which would have gone to the Dec. 19 title game to face Northwestern under the original rules for this pandemic-affected season.
Still, we’re siding with the Big Ten on this one.
Ohio State is clearly the best team in the conference, perhaps the best team in the nation. The Buckeyes have won four games by an average of 27.5 points and defeated Indiana 42-35 in a meeting that was only that close because of a furious but futile comeback by the Hoosiers.
While accused of favoritism toward its football powerhouse, the Big Ten rightly pointed out that Ohio State still would’ve claimed the East division title even if they had played – and improbably lost – Saturday’s now-canceled game against Michigan because of their tiebreaker edge over Indiana.
Naturally, the decision was met with jubilation in Columbus.
”I am appreciative of our Big Ten Conference colleagues for reconsidering the six-game requirement to qualify for the Big Ten championship game,” coach Ryan Day said. ”A lot of changes have happened since that recommendation was put in place. I know making this decision was not easy.”
Even Indiana, which is missing out on a chance to claim just its third Big Ten title and first since 1967, was gracious toward the Buckeyes.
”From the start of the year, we have said we can only control what we can control,” athletic director Scott Dolson said. ”We had a chance to earn our spot in the Big Ten championship game, but ultimately fell a touchdown short on the road against a great Ohio State team.”
It’s worth noting that the College Football Playoff selection committee likely would have picked the Buckeyes even if they weren’t eligible for the conference championship game.
If anything, playing one more game is a bit of a risk when they may have already locked up a spot, though that was dependent on the outcomes of the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference championship games.
Ohio State actually made the playoff four years ago without playing for the Big Ten title.
A three-point loss at Penn State knocked the Buckeyes out of a spot in the conference championship game, but they were still selected for football’s final four. Two-loss Penn State won the Big Ten title, only to settle for a spot in the non-playoff Rose Bowl.
Also, of Ohio State’s three canceled games, only one (Nov. 28 at Illinois) was because of COVID-19 cases within the Buckeyes program (an outbreak that included Day).
The Nov. 14 game at Maryland was scrapped because the Terrapins had a spike in their numbers. Michigan was forced to back out of its traditional season-ending showdown with the Buckeyes because of at least 40 cases linked to the Wolverines.
Rest assured, Ohio State desperately wanted the chance to deliver another beatdown of its fiercest rival. The Buckeyes have won eight straight games in the series, and most of those haven’t even been close.
They romped to a 56-27 victory last year at Michigan’s Big House. Two years ago, the Buckeyes hung 62 points on the Wolverines at the Horseshoe.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said the idea of not being able to face the Wolverines made him ”sick to my stomach.”
It’s the first time in 102 years that the ”The Game” won’t be played.
”This game has been a part of my life since I was 5 years old,” said the 59-year-old Coombs, who grew up in suburban Cincinnati.
Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis said the team works all year with the goal of beating Michigan.
”There’s a lot of hatred that goes toward that logo,” Davis said. ”All the stuff we have to do during the offseason, all the sit-ups and push-ups, everything, there’s a lot of stuff that is definitely geared toward them.”
Thankfully, the Buckeyes will now get a shot at No. 15 Northwestern (5-1, No. 14 CFP).
The Big Ten made the proper call on that one.
Financially, to be sure, but also because it was the right thing to do.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry196 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
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