What the SI Big Ten Publishers are Saying about Conference-Only Schedules

Brendan Gulick

The Big Ten announced Thursday that all fall sports — including football — will be going to conference-only schedules to better handle the COVID-19 pandemic. That's certainly never happened before in conference history, and it's soliciting a lot of opinions.

So here at Sports Illustrated, we thought we'd do the same and hit up our Big Ten publishers and ask for their reaction to the unprecedented news.

Here's what they had to say:

Brendan Gulick, Ohio State

I think the Big Ten is trying to give itself as much flexibility as possible going into the fall, because the virus isn't going to be eradicated. How high is their risk tolerance for an outbreak? They have so many questions that are still unanswered. But by moving to a conference-only platform, they control as many of the variables as they can.

I am inclined to believe there will still be a football season until someone says it's officially canceled. I think games will be played in empty stadiums, but schools will at least have the opportunity to collect money from television — even if they have to take a loss on ticket sales revenue. Several of the schools in the league will be OK without fan revenue, but virtually all of them would be in major trouble without TV revenue.

This is a massive crossroads for the future of college sports. By eliminating non-conference games, even if the Big Ten does play football, the mid-majors that were counting on paychecks for playing big schools are going to suffer major setbacks. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg. The biggest schools with the biggest budgets will likely survive this, but those athletic programs are few and far between.

Eric Rutter, Michigan

On the surface level, the move to eliminate non-conference games makes a certain degree of sense. It is a given that concessions will need to be made for football to proceed in the fall, and one of those is that schools will be forced to work together.

From a communication standpoint and a testing standpoint, the Big Ten’s move to a conference-only schedule streamlined that reality. Schools can have consistent channels developed in order to send information and adjust their procedure or schedule as need be. From a team standpoint, many of the players were likely looking forward to participating in non-conference contests and bowl games. That is an unfortunate side effect of this move.

But if non-conference games need to be sacrificed in order for there to be a football season at all, then so be it. It’s better for the conference to make this move on July 9 as opposed to August 9.

Mark Wogenrich, Penn State

Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour calls the decision "the best path forward" for college football, at least in the Big Ten. And maybe it is. If the conference can act as its own governing entity, mandate consistent testing protocols, practice dates, travel requirements and game operations, its plan has a chance to work.

But the last paragraph of the Big Ten's statement, which included the warning that "we are also prepared not to play," is the real takeaway. This most certainly isn't over.

McLain Moberg, Michigan State

I don't think this is a huge surprise considering the circumstances surrounding sports worldwide. In my opinion, with recent spikes involving COVID-19 cases across the nation, we were headed for some form of change.

I'm impressed Commissioner Kevin Warren and the Big Ten are out ahead of this and are actively planning to move forward with college football, even if it isn't what most people envisioned. By eliminating non-conference games, you ensure the collective group of universities in the Big Ten will go through the same protocols and safety procedures to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. It's the right move.

Tom Brew, Indiana

My first reaction to this was, hey, whatever we can do to have a season, let's do it. It does make a lot of sense to me to keep everything in the family, so to speak. If all 14 schools are using the same protocols and are working in similar ways to keep everyone safe, then that should definitely help in keeping positive tests to a minimum. There's no sense in bringing 30 or 40 other schools into the mix all fall long.

I like the idea of going to 10 games but playing it over 13 or 14 weeks so you can build in bye weeks to juggle the schedule around if a school gets hit hard with positive tests. And if we're adding a game, I'd love to see Indiana get Northwestern, so we could have a showdown of two former teammates at quarterback, Michael Penix Jr. and Northwestern grad transfer Peyton Ramsey.

Matthew Stevens, Illinois

I'm impressed by the Big Ten Conference and Commissioner Kevin Warren being at the forefront of trying to act in the most responsible way possible during a generationally historic virus pandemic. I do understand how control over protocols of all 14 schools is critical.

What I'm not impressed by is this absolute hesitancy to figuring out a season to be played in the spring. I understand all the logistics of the NFL Draft and then the quick turnaround of the 2021 fall. I get it but when you have the opportunity to buy yourself some time for a more healthy situation, it would be, in my opinion, advantageous to do so.

John Bohnenkamp, Iowa

My instant analysis: The Big Ten's decision isn't a surprise. The football season was already facing significant disruption, if not outright postponement. By doing this now, at least there's a plan moving forward, and it's one you can implement in the spring if absolutely necessary.

I'm also impressed with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, who has shown great leadership.

Ahmed Ghafir, Maryland

Although I question whether the conference-only slate makes any difference when it comes to the well-being of student-athletes, good for the Big Ten for being at the forefront. The ACC and Pac-12 are expected to follow suit with the same amended model as well, which leaves us the real losers in this: FCS schools.

The loss of non-conference games will decimate schools’ financial outlook beyond the 2020-21 season as they’ll now lose their expected guaranteed money. Power 5 schools are struggling in light of the pandemic and Stanford is an example of a big university still cutting varsity sports to remain financially sustainable. I’m not sure how those programs recover, but from the Big Ten’s perspective, it provides a little more certainty heading into the 2020 season.

The schedule just got a lot tougher for Maryland as they lose two nearly guaranteed wins, making the path to bowl eligibility that much tougher for second-year head coach Mike Locksley. That being said, skepticism for the 2020 season remains high, especially when the conference ended their statement with, “we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate.”

Tom Brew, Purdue

Considering that Purdue had a surprisingly difficult nonconference schedule – 12-win Memphis, 11-win Air Force and a road game to Boston College — this might be a big of a blessing for the Boilermakers. And then, if this 10-game schedule becomes a reality, what might quickly balance that out is if Purdue gets stuck with Ohio State or Penn State, both of whom are loaded.

And I know this is only for fall sports right now, but I couldn't help but think about one basketball nugget. What if all we get is a 26-game round robin basketball schedule, with no cupcakes in November for everyone? I'd love that!