Concerns about COVID-19 could necessitate the need for the Huskers to face only familiar foes this fall
Whether you're a fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Ohio State Buckeyes, Wisconsin Badgers, or any Big Ten conference team, the allure of a college football season is palpable right now.
Sadly, this may very well be a pipe dream. But with the NCAA green-lighting a two-week "minicamp" stretch prior to normal fall camp activities, a glimmer of hope lives, however briefly.
If a 2020 season happens, the form it takes is fluid. A substantial sum of revenue vanishes if one doesn't occur. And a monumental leap of faith isn't necessary to suggest the two richest leagues in the sport have several contingencies planned just in case.
No matter how the SEC may continue, if the Big Ten can cash in, they'll no doubt make every attempt to experiment. The idea of a conference-only season has become commonplace. While this not only empowers the league to do its own thing, another possibility remains that might further mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The Big Ten's divisions aren't comparable to the SEC's in terms of overall strength, but a level of intrigue is persistent. The East is home to heavy hitters in Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan. The West features everyone chasing Wisconsin as of today, but a spirited yearly scramble to become the king of the hill takes place.
For the football-greedy among us that thirst for a full 12-game season, an opportunity exists in theory. This pitch requires some sacrifice, though. I propose every Big Ten squad only play those in their division and do so twice. One home game and one away.
During a recession, this helps reduce university and fan travel expenses as no team from either division so much as passes through a different time zone. Schools across the country are seeing budgets cut, salaries trimmed, and layoffs. Helping to emphasize these are a few reduction decisions Nebraska recently disclosed.
The Huskers' athletic department announced a 10 percent decrease in administrative positions, encouraged sports to schedule regional non-conference play to help limit exposure to COVID-19, and noted no upcoming yearly increase to athletic funding. Keeping any potential risk to a smaller region also aids fans if they travel to follow their favorite team, especially if they're allowed into stadiums.
To appreciate what form this could take, let's run over a theoretical Nebraska schedule.
For the sake of expediency, we toss the bye week. A season-opening game versus Purdue on Sept. 5 remains. Central Michigan, South Dakota State, and Cincinnati get wiped from the schedule to make room for an expanded Big Ten slate.
Using the Huskers' current division schedule and the above proposal, here's what Nebraska's revised season could resemble:
Sept. 5 — Purdue
Sept. 12 — at Northwestern
Sept. 19 — Illinois
Sept. 26 — at Iowa
Oct. 3 — at Wisconsin
Oct. 10 — Minnesota
Oct. 17 — at Purdue
Oct. 24 — Northwestern
Oct. 31 — at Illinois
Nov. 7 — Iowa
Nov. 14 — Wisconsin
Nov. 21 — at Minnesota
There's still uncertainty about how the Big Ten may choose conference championship game participants should it take place. For example, if Ohio State and Wisconsin run the table, there's no issue. But if multiple teams tie at the top of either division's standings, things would get complicated under normal circumstances.
No official tiebreakers have been established for the upcoming season because of the uncertainty that exists. But applying the 2019 rules outlined here makes things simple.
Either a division champion dominates or it's up to lady luck in the form of a random draw. And honestly, that sounds rather boring outside of the mystery aspect.
To make things more sporting, why not consider a game of rock-paper-scissors among team representatives? Let's be honest, if the Big Ten is looking for maximum entertainment value — entirely possible should a modified schedule be put in place — have the teams' head coaches do it.
Either way, it'd probably end up like a Heisman Trophy ceremony, drawn out over the course of 60 minutes with various montages. Let's see Paul Chryst versus Kirk Ferentz versus P.J. Fleck versus Scott Frost. Do it via Zoom if you must.
With division champions crowned, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis remains a logical location considering a compromise in distance and protection from the elements.
A more likely scenario if a 12-game Big Ten-only season plays out with multiple teams tied in each division would be several co-champions unless they are paired down via some manner of random wackiness.
Should all this happen, one of the nation's richest conferences could not only have a full-length regular season but a potential title game to put a bow on its efforts.
All that's left is figuring out lodging, testing everyone involved, and all the minutiae that goes into making this happen. But if nothing else, this proposal is an option. And you've got to start somewhere.