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Big Ten Sounds the Deathknell After Canceling Non-Conference Games

The Big Ten prematurely canceled all of their non-conference football games in 2020, delivering a blow to the hopes of a season.

College football fans are hoping to see The Undertaker rise one more time.

Even if he is on his back and time is running out.

That’s because as COVID-19 cases rise around the country, fans and pundits alike have deemed the 2020 college football season dead and one of the biggest conferences in America seems to think they’re right.

Last week brought us a big-ticket news item — the Big Ten is reportedly planning on playing only their conference games in 2020, axing all of their member’s non-conference opponents. The Big Ten’s move comes on the heels of the Ivy League’s full cancellation of fall sports, with a best-case scenario of those sports taking place after Jan. 1.

Let’s be clear about what this is. This is the start of a full cancellation of the 2020 college football season.

It’s not over until it’s over and to the ACC’s credit, they decided to wait until the end of the month before following the Big Ten off the cliff. But there’s a Bad Moon Rising. Not only for this season, but for college sports in general.

Power 5 commissioners are now backed into a corner. Do you make every effort to get this season off the ground and appear to be “putting money above health/safety,” or do you take the easy road out and just shut it down?

The Ivy League was a domino, and out of simple fear of being painted as money-grubbing jerks, Power 5 commissioners are on their way towards blowing up the foundation of college athletics.

The Big Ten’s decision to cancel non-conference games this season will have lasting effects that are felt outside of the conference. Along with lost television revenue for those games, revenue towards out-of-conference teams for “buy games” is no longer flowing, which will absolutely cripple conferences like the MAC.

Ohio State was scheduled to play both Bowling Green and Buffalo, who Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger reports came with a $1.7 million payout to Buffalo. Michigan was slated to play Ball State, a game that Dellenger reports was worth $975,000. Kent State was set to make more than $1.5 million from their game at Penn State. In all, seven different MAC teams were scheduled to play Big Ten opponents this season. The other five MAC teams are supposed to play at least one Power 5 team from another conference. Dellenger reports that the MAC’s games against Big Ten opponents alone were worth more than $10 million.

The Big Ten’s decision to dump non-conference games will shut off a large sum of revenue for these programs in the MAC and if the other Power 5 conferences follow suit, the entire MAC will face a deeper revenue crisis than they were already facing. Now extrapolate that problem to every non-Power 5 conference in America. You see what the ramifications of this are going to be.

The Mid-American Conference's Jon Steinbrecher is one of many conference commissioners facing an existential crisis this year. Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports.

The Mid-American Conference's Jon Steinbrecher is one of many conference commissioners facing an existential crisis this year. Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports.

Maybe the most frustrating part of this decision is that it happened on July 9, almost two months before the college football season would even start. Instead of trying to create an insulated environment for players and then waiting for more data to come in closer to the start of the season, the Big Ten just punted up on a quarter of their games.

If you think the Big Ten is going to be alone on this, I have news for you. The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach is reporting that the Pac-12 is close to making the same decision as the Big Ten. Stadium’s Brett McMurphy reported that the ACC is close to announcing its cancellation of non-conference games, even though that was somewhat refuted by the ACC on Twitter.

This is bigger than its impact on Virginia Tech, which is clear. The Hokies are now missing out on a chance to play regional recruiting rival Penn State at home, and who knows when or if that game will be rescheduled. The impact of these decisions is going to be felt in the hearts and wallets of average American citizens.

Scholarships are going to be cut. Stanford cut 11 sports on Wednesday, and that’s before the expected cancellation of their non-conference football games. Numerous other programs have already cut athletic teams from their catalog. The Associated Press’ list of teams cut as of July 8 stands at 51. Now divide that into players, and then think about how many different families are losing out on scholarship money and a chance for higher education. And if there’s no football season, these cuts will come faster than they can be reported.

I think the average college football fan could live with the consequences of a canceled 2020 season if they felt like conferences, universities and athletic programs did everything in their power to get this off the ground. But it’s hard to get that feeling when one of the biggest conferences in the country is starting to cave with just under two months before the season was scheduled to get going.

The alternative to the Big Ten’s hasty decision would be to take the ACC’s approach and wait. Late July is still a long time from the season, but giving yourself an extra three weeks of data to analyze and act on makes more sense than just throwing in the towel.

Ideally, conferences would wait until the last couple of weeks prior these games before cutting them. Players have reported back to campus already and coaches can run their preseason camps as originally designed. This way, players are preparing for a season so if there is one, they will be ready. It’s a lot easier to flip the switch on than it is to flip it off.

Justin Fuente said earlier this offseason that he could get his team prepared to play football in a month, if necessary. Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said on Monday that he thinks a decision needs to be made by the end of July in order to give teams a real chance at getting ready to play.

By prematurely canceling these non-conference games, the Big Ten has issued a death sentence to countless athletic teams, whether it be inside or outside their conference. They have put numerous administrative positions on the chopping block, likely throwing many Americans into financial turmoil. This will result in further despair and a lack of higher education for athletes who had otherwise earned that opportunity. If the rest of the Power 5 programs follow suit, the amount of damage will be immeasurable.

Sadly, I fully expect the other four major conferences to come to the same conclusion. Because heaven forbid, they face the perception of being seen as uncaring or corrupt, even if that perception is utter bulls---.