The Big Ten football Twittersphere is in flames as I type.
No football this fall? An October start? How about Thanksgiving? A season that spans from January to March? Will there even be games played at all? What the hell is going on?
At this point, nobody really knows. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, who was on the phone with President Trump just Tuesday to discuss a the federal government’s help in bringing back fall ball, is unsure about where the league goes from here.
All of the rumors I listed above are just that: rumors. No one really knows if they have any weight or not. As of now, it appears “spring” football is the most likely scenario, but what might the schedule look like?
If we want to get a bit wacky with the whole scheduling idea, there’s a route the Big Ten could take that hasn’t really been discussed: a six-game season followed by a tournament to determine conference champion. We don’t really know the state of the bowl slate, so we can’t really count on them being involved. If there’s a place to work them out, great, but here’s a proposal that doesn’t require them.
In a late fall or winter football season that probably wouldn’t mean as much considering the Big 12, ACC and SEC remain on track to play this fall, why not try to have a little fun with it?
Here’s how this hypothetical season would work.
The regular season
The format for the regular season would work out quite nicely. Here’s how.
First off, get rid of crossover games and play only a divisional schedule. There are seven teams in each division, so each team would play each other once. While this could potentially make for a bloodbath in the East division, we wouldn’t miss out on any big rivalries, like The Game or HAT.
Additionally, strength of schedule wouldn’t be an issue for teams in the same division, because everyone is playing the same slate. Overall, it’s a pretty simple schedule. Each team could play three home games and three away games, which wouldn’t have a huge impact on strength of scheduling given the lack of fans in attendance.
The schedule would be balanced enough to determine a top seed in each division, which can be done through tiebreakers if needed, then the tournament would follow. You can throw in a bye week if needed, but this model presents flexibility in a sense that many teams playing seven games in total. The most a team could play is 10 games.
Start by Thanksgiving, and depending on how the schedule is modeled, some teams would be done in mid-late January. Others would consequentially bow out until the finalists finish in mid-late February. At that point, you’ve eliminated most impact on the fall 2021 season. Even if the conference began the season after New Year’s, it could be done by the first half of March. Implement some more safety protocols reducing collisions and contact practices and it’s doable.
An extended, exciting postseason
The tournament that would follow the six game regular season would look a bit like how the NFL runs its postseason, as the two sides of the bracket would be separated by East and West divisions. Think of the regular season as a divisional round robin: Every team makes the postseason but is seeded by record (and necessary tiebreakers). The number one seed gets a bye for the first week of the postseason.
Tiebreakers each conference wouldn’t really be an issue as any ties could be settled with head-to-head records. For example, when Northwestern and Wisconsin inevitably vie for first place in the West and both go 5-1 in the regular season, but Northwestern beats Wisconsin, the Wildcats would take the top spot.
While the number one seed sits idle, the other six seeds would battle it out how you would expect. The two-seed in each division would face the seven-seed, the three-seed would see the six-seed and the four seed would meet the five-seed.
Whoever wins moves on in the single elimination style tournament. The winner of each division plays in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Again, while this idea may seem pointless, why not test out some alternatives given the season would largely be a wash?
Ohio State The champion of this tournament would probably just end up facing Oregon in a modified Rose Bowl anyway. And with the Big Ten and Pac-12 seemingly not working in tandem on playing during the 2020-21 academic year, this would remove the need for any other conference. You’re playing for a Big Ten crown.
An added benefit would be the potential for some amazing playoff games. Imagine Ohio State-Michigan with a spot in the Big Ten Championship on the line (we’ve seen this before) or Northwestern-Illinois in a cold, damp afternoon game at Ryan Field in a first-round matchup to see who would go on to play Iowa at an empty Kinnick. Bliss.
The idea can be toyed with; this article is merely a thought experiment. The tournament doesn’t have to be confined to each division until the championship. You could shake up the teams so each side of bracket has teams from both divisions and there’d be some more unconventional but juicy matchups.
As for home field advantage, the higher seed would get to play on their home turf. The championship could either be played at Lucas Oil Stadium or at the higher-seeded team’s stadium (if there is a higher-seeded team). I’ll leave that up to the conference to decide.
A conclusion of sorts
This proposal may seem unrealistic and remind you more of a basketball season, but in a year that will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the college football world, why not give something like this a shot?
This idea will probably never see the light of day. In reality, the Big Ten may play early in 2021. Or around Thanksgiving. Or in October. Or scrap the season altogether. Right now, the teams aren’t playing until they are.
But until then, it’s always fun to mess around with some different concepts.