Full disclosure: I went to IU. Historically, we are a basketball school, though even that has fallen in shadow after the glory days of the 80s and early 90s. My point is, we are not, and have never been, a football school.
Except for this season.
Remarkably, IU has managed to go 6-1 in a pandemic-riddled season, largely due to outstanding sophomore quarterback Michael Penix, Jr., and a ferocious defense that had Ohio State’s highly-touted QB Justin Fields throwing interceptions like kisses in IU’s 42-35 loss to Ohio State two weeks ago. Given five more minutes on the clock, a driving IU might have won that game.
Though college football should absolutely not be playing in a pandemic, I’d be lying if I said IU football hasn’t been a little bright spot in the midst of this Mordor-esque year. What’s more, for the vast majority of the season, IU (and Bloomington in general), has done a relatively good job of keeping the spread of COVID somewhat at bay. I say “relatively” because IU has always been a beautiful blue island full of libs in the midst of a blood-red state that currently has the second-highest per capita COVID rate in the entire U-nited States.
(Of course, as I’m writing this, the IU-Purdue Old Oaken Bucket game has been canceled due to COVID issues on both teams, because everything is terrible in 2020).
Ohio State, on the other hand, even had their head coach, Ryan Day, test positive at the end of November. Three Ohio State games were canceled this season because of COVID concerns, one of them, against Illinois, because of the number of positive tests among the Buckeyes, leaving them at 5-0 and one game short of the mandatory six games needed to play in the Big Ten Championship Game.
IU, on the hand, has played 7 games, its only loss being to Ohio State.
Oh, and only two teams in the country have three wins over Top 25 teams: Alabama and Indiana.
But of course we can’t have this. This entire season has been played because Ohio State wanted to be national champs.
Today the Big Ten voted to change the rules, midseason, to allow Ohio State to play in the Big Ten Championship anyway, despite not meeting the qualifications to do so. Despite another team in their division having met the qualifications. We just can’t have Ohio State out of the Big Ten Championship!
In what world do sports conferences change the rules, midseason, to allow one team to leapfrog another? And don’t say “one without a raging global pandemic.” It’s not like this Big Ten season started on time or in the before times. The Big Ten, having first made the correct, adult decision to postpone the 2020 season, was then subsequently brow-beaten into having a season in the midst of the worst pandemic since 1918. They knew what the possibilities were. If they wanted to suspend the 6-game rule for the season, that was the time to do it.
“Well,” says Twitter, “beat Ohio State and you don’t have this problem.” And frankly, I’d love another shot at Ohio State, even with IU’s star, Penix, out for the season with a torn ACL. But the bigger question is, how do you look at a team that did everything right this season and tell them they don’t get to play for a championship because another team, that didn’t meet the requirements everyone played under, deserves it more?
They don’t deserve it more.
And for those rightly thinking that the Big Ten made this decision solely to get a share of the College Football Playoff money, there’s nothing stopping the College Football Playoff Committee from putting Ohio State in the playoff without a Big Ten title. The CFP doesn’t have a six-game requirement. Of course, without that sixth game, the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule isn’t that strong. Yet another reason no one should be making an exception for them.
My feelings for my alma mater aside, this is just a continuation of the problem we’ve had in this country since the pandemic started: Half of us are acting like there’s a pandemic and the other half of us aren’t. And why should they? There are no consequences for helping to spread COVID like wildfire, and there are no consequences for program’s like Day’s, who insisted on playing football this fall, come hell or high water, and then threw a fit when he didn’t like the result. Restaurants are open, people refuse to wear masks, everyone is out at the bar, and politicians are convinced that basic, human decency is a violation of our constitutional freedom.
Have you seen the latest COVID spread map? Let me get it for you:
IU was able to play the number of games needed to play in the Big Ten Championship because they took COVID seriously this season. I’ve been to IU a few times this fall and I didn’t see anyone without a mask in public, even outdoors, and witnessed kids running over to Memorial Stadium for mandatory random COVID tests.
I don’t know what life was like during COVID at Ohio State, but I do know they’re coach pushed to play in the fall in the first place, he should have to accept the consequences of that decision.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that we have bigger things to worry about right now than college football, or sports in general, which, again, we should not even be playing. And I get that most college football fans don’t give a rat’s ass if IU plays in the Big Ten Championship or not. And I am also self-aware enough to know that no one cares if I’m upset by the injustice of it all. Maybe it’s the lack of light, month nine of quarantine, or not seeing my family since February that has me burning with rage right now. Who knows?
What I also know is that one team did what was asked of them under the most difficult of circumstances. Another team didn’t. The former is being punished and the latter is being rewarded.
I don’t ever want to hear about the integrity of college football again.