Impact of Big Ten Cutting Nonconference Games Will Be Huge

Herb Gould

 How endangered is this football season? The Big Ten will only play conference games if it plays at all, the league announced.

While every effort is being made to salvage sports seasons, this is another sign of how daunting that task is for college football.

``One thing we have to realize that this is not a fait accompli that we’re going to have sports in the fall,’’ Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said on BTN. ``We may not have sports in the fall. We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten.’’

The decision will be a huge blow for smaller schools who were counting on their Big Ten guarantees games to pay a big portion of their athletic-department budgets.

It also will have a major impact on Notre Dame, which loses its marquee game vs. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

If the Pac-12 goes to conference games only, as is widely expected, the Irish also would lose their Stanford and USC games. The Irish and Trojans have met annually since 1927, except for a three-year break during World War II.

ACC commissioner John Swofford has said the ACC, which already plays five games a season vs. Notre Dame, will provide more games for the Irish if needed to fill in their schedule.

The move makes sense for the Big Ten. It will limit travel and allow the league to come up with a schedule that suits its competitive goals and its television partners.

There is speculation, for example, that division games will be front-loaded so that a champion can be best determined in the event that the season can’t be completed.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN he would like to see a 10-conference-game schedule. The Buckeyes suspended voluntary workouts this week, though, due to a spike in positive virus tests.

In other words, it’s important to make plans. But they are all subject to the realties of a virus that is far from under control—or even understood from a practical standpoint.

Mid-American commissioner Jon Steinbrecher expressed shock at the timing of the Big Ten decision, which will create havoc with MAC athletic budgets. The lost games ``are very valuable,’’ he told the Detroit Free Press. ``We'll now have to step back and contemplate what that means for us.’’

MAC teams were scheduled to play 11 games vs. Big Ten schools worth more than $10 million, the Free Press said. Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, Ball State and Bowling Green each had two Big Ten games canceled. In 2018-19, the $1.15 million that Central Michigan received in guarantee money was 33.8 percent of its budget, the Detroit paper said. This year, it was expecting $2.15 million from its two Big Ten games.

Stanford dropped 11 varsity sports this week in light of the virus crisis. What will the impact be at MAC schools, which have far fewer resources?

At this point, no one really knows if there will be college football this fall. What is becoming very clear, though: If there is a season, it will look very different.


Herb Gould