Big Ten football teams to play 'unique' nine-game, conference-only schedule

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

It went from a typical 12-game regular season to a 10-game, Big Ten-only slate to a nine-game, conference-only schedule with a twist.

The Big Ten announced Wednesday morning it will start the football season Oct. 23-24, a reversal from its Aug. 11 decision to postpone fall sports. Fans will not be allowed in the stadiums at this time, according to the conference. Family members of players and coaches, athletic department staff and media will be permitted.

Big Ten football teams will play a nine-game schedule in 2020.

Teams will play eight games and then an additional game during what Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez called “champions week.” They will play six division games and two crossover games. The East and West division champions will play for the Big Ten title, but the remaining teams will also be matched up, with the second-place team in the East facing the second-place team in the West and so on.

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Alvarez, who led the football schedule subcommittee during this movement toward starting a season this fall, said during a video conference Wednesday that the schedule is expected to be released later this week. The committee presented four schedule models to the Big Ten presidents and chancellors and this was what “made sense,” Alvarez said.

“Very unique schedule,” Alvarez said. “Gives everyone an opportunity to play nine games.”

The group has been working to try to avoid repeat games so that a team doesn't play a crossover opponent in the regular season and then during the "champions week."

"I’m sure that’s something that we will definitely take a look at, because you wouldn’t want a rematch," Alvarez said.  

The locations of the "champions weeks" game will be determined, he said, but will be at a campus site.

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With players weighing options to play or begin training for the NFL Draft, Alvarez said nine games seemed to be the sweet spot to appeal to players.

“We wanted to make a season meaningful,” Alvarez said. “You have a number of players that are trying to make a decision whether they’re opting in or they’re opting out. We wanted to make a meaningful season for all of them. Nine games was what we felt was very meaningful.”

Waiting until the fourth weekend in October will give teams, Alvarez said, plenty of time to practice and prepare.

“Our athletes will be able to start practice immediately and that’s what we’re talking about right now, about when they should be back to a 20-hour week,” he said. “It actually will be more than three weeks in preparation if we’re going to play the 23rd and 24th.

“We have plenty of time to acclimate. Our athletes have been working out. Even though we postponed the season, our athletes were still available to work out and put in time during the week. Their conditioning should be good. They certainly should have plenty of time in preparation for this season.”

Dr. James Borchers, the Ohio State team physician and a member of the Big Ten's Return to Competition Task Force, said with the protocols in place, the season should be completed.

"We believe that safe protocols will allow us to complete this season," Borchers said. "From the standpoint of athletes participating in nine football games, certainly we know that that’s a significant number of games. But that’s been done in the past. It’s gonna be incumbent upon all of us from our institutions, coaches and medical staffs to make certain that health and safety is at the forefront of what we’re doing.

"Our medical subcommittee recommended that it was safe to proceed forward and if we need to adjust, we’ll adjust."

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told his players before a Sept. 2 practice that playing in October was a possibility, although he suggested earlier in the month. Michigan’s team has continued to go through voluntary practices, and he said the team would be ready quickly.

“We could be ready to play a game in two weeks,” Harbaugh said on Sept. 5, the day the season was scheduled to begin. “Just get the pads on. Our guys have trained without a pause since June 15. That’s our position. We’re ready to play as soon as we possibly can play.”

Twitter: @chengelis