CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- With multiple news outlets, including the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reporting the Big Ten Conference is looking into the possibilities of a winter football schedule using the domed stadiums in the league’s footprint, Illini Now/Sports Illustrated thought we’d give you a look at what that kind of schedule could be.
In this clearly fantasy scenario, let’s break down some of the key points to how this schedule was created:
- Illini Now/SI created a seven-game regular season that runs from Jan. 16 to March 6.
- Every Big Ten team will play six divisional games and one divisional crossover game.
- The stadiums used in this construct are: Ford Field in Detroit, The Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. NOTE: Obviously, the Big Ten would need to pay a rental rights fee to Syracuse to use the facility and schedule around any Orange basketball games on these weekends but the schedule is obviously flexible to accommodate Thursday or Friday night games there and also only uses the facility for four weekends.
The question of fans is left a TBD situation as it is possible social distancing could work in these large stadiums (and I’m sure schools would like to generate some income by selling tickets to its season ticket base) but as with a lot of things involving the coronavirus pandemic, we can’t anticipate anything normal so it’d probably be safe to assume no fans except for essential personnel will be allowed in the buildings.
- Every team has an open week. The seven-game schedule ending as late as mid-March allows for players to recuperate before workouts would happen for an NFL draft and stealing from Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm’s plan, no spring contact practices in this offseason from mid-March to August to allow for bodies to recuperate for the possibility of a 2021 fall season.
- Obviously game times and broadcast rights would be negotiated among the Big Ten Conference office and its television partners but the idea is to have doubleheader games at a facility whenever possible.
- The rivalry game final weekend of the schedule is preserved for the March 6 weekend slate.
- The Big Ten Championship Game will be played on March 13 in Lucas Oil Stadium. The Eastern Division champion and Western Division champion will be determined by their divisional record and a head-to-head tiebreaker with the divisional game point differential being the final tiebreaker.
Some highlighted matchups for each week:
Week 1 - Jan. 16, 2021 - A doubleheader in Detroit’s Ford Field will feature defending Big Ten champion Ohio State and Michigan in the opening weekend. The Buckeyes will face Indiana for the FOX Big Noon Kickoff game. Michigan will play Maryland in the nightcap of this double dip. An opening weekend doubleheader will also occur at U.S. Bank Stadium (Illinois vs. Wisconsin; Rutgers vs. Minnesota) and Lucas Oil Stadium (Nebraska vs. Northwestern; Iowa vs. Purdue).
Week 2 - Jan. 23, 2021 - Detroit will host a true neutral site game as Michigan and Michigan State will play. Ohio State and Iowa will play its divisional crossover game in the nightcap of a St. Louis doubleheader that follows a Minnesota/Nebraska matchup.
Week 3 - Jan. 30, 2021 - This weekend is dominated by Western Division matchups as Illinois/Minnesota and Purdue/Wisconsin are a Minneapolis doubleheader. Eastern Divisional powers Ohio State (vs. Rutgers in Detroit) and Penn State (vs. Indiana in Indianapolis) will likely be large favorites in its game before their matchup the following week.
Week 4 - Feb. 6, 2021 - The league’s two highest-ranked programs in the preseason USA Today coaches’ poll meet as Ohio State and Penn State tangle in Syracuse’s Carrier Dome. Since becoming a member of the Big Ten Conference, Penn State has only played at Syracuse one time (2008) and Ohio State’s last and only appearance at the Carrier Dome was 1992. Another prime divisional crossover matchup for this weekend is Wisconsin playing Michigan at Ford Field.
Week 5 - Feb. 13, 2021 - Michigan and Penn State square off in Ford Field. A little unintentional nugget to this fantasy schedule is Michigan will play all seven of its regular season games in Detroit, just 45 minutes from its campus in Ann Arbor. Nebraska and Wisconsin is the nightcap of an interesting St. Louis doubleheader that starts off with Illinois vs. Iowa.
Week 6 - Feb. 20, 2021 - A trio of doubleheaders is the entire slate of this weekend. In Detroit, Ohio State vs. Michigan State will be followed by Michigan vs. Indiana. In Minneapolis, Iowa vs. Wisconsin will be followed by Purdue vs. Minnesota. In St. Louis, Penn State vs. Nebraska will be followed by Maryland vs. Illinois.
Week 7 - Feb. 27, 2021 - Admittedly, the weekend before rivalry weekend is a bit of a dud. Nebraska vs. Purdue in Indianapolis is the highlighted matchup here as this was supposed to be the conference game that opened Big Ten play in the original league slate before COVID-19 forced the new 10-game league-only schedule that was ditched less than a week after its announcement.
Week 8 - RIVALRY WEEK - March 6, 2021 - The Michigan/Ohio State game will be in Detroit. Penn State and Maryland will play in the Carrier Dome. The Bucket Game between Indiana and Purdue will be decided inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Illinois/Northwestern game will be decided as the earlier game in Indianapolis. Iowa and Nebraska will play in St. Louis. The owner of Paul Bunyan’s Axe will be decided inside U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis between Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Week 9 - BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - March 13, 2021 - Let’s call this Big Ten winter championship weekend. The day before Selection Sunday of the NCAA Tournament (and hopefully the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament final at the United Center in Chicago) the Big Ten Football Championship Game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium.
So, what does everybody think of this winter football Big Ten schedule?