The Big Ten officially changed its policy that teams must play six games to be eligible for the conference championship game, meaning undefeated No. 4 Ohio State will face Northwestern on Dec. 19.
The conference made the announcement today after its administrative council, made up of all athletic directors and senior women administrators, voted to eliminate the minimum-game requirement in collaboration with the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors.
The Buckeyes’ place in the postseason became a question Tuesday when Michigan canceled the teams’ regular-season rivalry game because of COVID-19 issues within the Wolverines program.
It was the third canceled game for Ohio State this season, after others against Illinois and Maryland, and left the Buckeyes at just five games played overall.
“The decision was based on a competitive analysis which determined that Ohio State would have advanced to the Big Ten Football Championship Game based on its undefeated record and head-to-head victory over Indiana regardless of a win or loss against Michigan,” the conference said.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day saluted Big Ten officials for reconsidering the requirement.
“A lot of changes have happened since that recommendation was put in place,” he said in a statement. “I know making this decision was not easy, and I am thankful for the opportunity our players will now have to play in Indianapolis as an undefeated East Division champion.”
Ohio State (5-0) beat Indiana 42-35 last month, handing the Hoosiers (6-1) what has turned out to be their only loss.
“Coach [Tom] Allen and I are proud of this team and the success we have had so far this season,” Hoosiers athletic director Scott Dolson said in a statement. “We are one of only two teams in the country with three Top-25 victories and have matched a program record for Big Ten wins. Although we understand the conference’s decision, we are disappointed. From the start of the year, we have said we can only control what we can control. We had a chance to earn our spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, but ultimately fell a touchdown short on the road against a great Ohio State team. We look forward to resuming activities and completing one of the best seasons in our school’s history.”
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, who is also the chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee, said he called Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren before the athletic directors met this morning to let him know he would recuse himself from the discussions and the voting, but he would join the videoconference to listen.
“He wasn’t surprised,” Barta said of Warren. “I alerted him to the fact I absolutely was going to be on the call, but I wasn’t going to contribute to the discussion and I was going to recuse myself and the University of Iowa was going to recuse itself from the vote. I did want to listen, because as athletic director I did want to hear how the conversation went.”
Barta said he joined from the Dallas airport, as he was flying home from the third CFP rankings meeting in Grapevine, Texas.
He said he had to leave the call a little early, but “knew where it was headed” and had listened to almost all of it. All 14 athletic directors and Warren were on the call, according to Barta.
He declined to say what the vote count was.
“It was very collaborative and I’ve always appreciated the way the Big Ten athletic directors work together and this was no exception to that,” he said. “At the end of the day, it was pointed out that if they had been able to play against Michigan, even if they would have lost, they had already clinched the top spot in the East, so real collaborative discussion and in the end it was voted that the six-game minimum be waived.”
Every team in the Big Ten will play an additional game the weekend of Dec. 18-19, and Barta said the athletic directors also discussed those matchups on Wednesday morning.
He said they wouldn’t be determined until after Saturday’s games.
“In normal circumstances, people would roll their eyes and say, ‘That’s crazy, you can’t turn it around that fast,'” he said, “but in COVID-19 pandemic time, the faster we can find out after the games are done Saturday the better. I know the Big Ten is going to work hard at getting them done as quickly as possible. I don’t have an exact time of when we’ll learn the matchups.”
Northwestern, at 5-1, will represent the West Division in the title game.