Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez: Big Ten could change rules if Ohio State isn't eligible for title game

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

With all of the cancellations that have occurred in the Big Ten, the conference may be forced to rethink how it determines its championship this fall.

Michigan is the most recent to cancel a game during this abbreviated Big Ten-only season. The Wolverines announced Wednesday that its home game against Maryland on Saturday is off because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the program. Their regular-season finale against Ohio State on Dec. 12 could also be in jeopardy.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez.

This could be an issue for Ohio State, which has won the last three Big Ten titles. The Buckeyes are the lone unbeaten team in the conference at 4-0 and is No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

But ahead of the resumption of play this season, the league set a six-game minimum to qualify for the conference title game. Ohio State did not to play Illinois last week because of COVID issues in its program, and also did not play Maryland earlier in the season because of COVID issues at Maryland.

Ohio State (4-0) still plans to play at Michigan State on Saturday, its fifth game of the season, but if Michigan is forced to cancel its game at Ohio State, that would put the Buckeyes under the six-game threshold.

But the Big Ten athletic directors may consider tweaking the rule, particularly in light of Ohio State’s potential situation and also considering the Buckeyes are unbeaten and among the top-four teams in the CFP rankings that determine the four-team national playoff. During a conversation Wednesday with Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who chaired the Big Ten’s return-to-play committee, he was asked if there has been any talk about trying to change the requirements.

“I would think that if something would happen to Ohio State and they’d have to cancel another game, that that’s something that we’ve got to revisit,” Alvarez told The Detroit News. “They’re sitting up there still ranked No. 4. Our league can’t keep them from having the opportunity if they have a chance to be in the finals.”

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Alvarez said the Big Ten athletic directors meet weekly and this is a decision that would be made at the AD-level, not by the presidents, who voted to return to play after initially postponing the season until the spring.

When the Big Ten decided to reinstate the season citing concerns regarding the pandemic, it left itself little wiggle room with eight games in eight weeks.

But there is a ninth, crossover game during what the Big Ten calls “Champions Week” played on or around the time of the Dec. 19 Big Ten championship game. Alvarez suggested that week could give the league some flexibility.

“Those are things we discuss,” Alvarez said of the weekly AD meetings. “We may make some adjustments on that last week. That’s sort of a flexible week of scheduling. But those are things we talk about and certainly you’ve got to consider, or reconsider.”


Twitter: @chengelis