Opinion: Big Ten cancels nonconference games to save itself, signaling beginning of the end of 2020 season
INDIANAPOLIS — We have reached the Darwinism phase of the 2020 college football season: Survival of the fittest, and to hell with everyone else. This means you, Ball State.
To hell with you, Ball State.
Hey, it’s not me saying that. It’s the Big Ten Conference, which announced on Thursday that it will play conference games only, across the board, in all fall sports. Assuming there are, you know, fall sports. I have a lot to say on that. Hang with me.
First, let me say this: The bigger schools are about to kill off the smaller ones, like condors devouring a flock of cardinals. Like vultures, really, picking at the dying, making sure they’re dead. This is the immediate fate facing smaller schools around the country, Ball State being just one of them.
You can see where this is going, of course. What started with the Big Ten will soon be adopted by the other Power 5 conferences, because that’s how it works in college sports. The five biggest conferences — the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, ACC and Big 12 — follow each other around, sniffing each other’s rear end, making up the rules as they go and forcing the other 250-plus schools in Division I, not all of which play football, to fall in line.
What you need to understand is this: Smaller schools like Ball State, like Central Michigan, like Bowling Green, like Northern Illinois … they need to play Power 5 schools to pay their bills. Ball State had two road games against Big Ten teams scheduled for the 2020 NCAA football season: Michigan and IU.
“Buy games,” they’re called, because a majority of schools in Power 5 conferences literally buy games against smaller schools each season. Bigger schools want home games they can win to tune up the team, cheer up the donors and hold up fans for $8 for flat soda and $10 for rubbery hot dogs. Smaller schools are aware of this, and negotiate with bigger schools for the best deal. The system works.
Except for now, when the system will forsake the Ball States of the world.
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See, Ball State was going to pocket a total of $1.675 million for playing Michigan and IU. That’s a significant percentage of the school’s annual athletic budget, the kind of coin that can make the difference between fielding, say, a baseball team in the spring … or not.
Am I predicting Ball State will cancel its 2021 baseball season? No. Just trying to show you one possible real-world consequence of the Big Ten’s maneuver on Thursday.
But it’s bigger than Ball State baseball. This is going to happen to smaller schools all over the country once the ACC, SEC and the rest sniff the Big Ten’s butt and make the same announcement. I give it a week, tops.
The bigger schools are scrambling for survival too, mind you. If you’re reading this as anger directed at the Power 5, you’re reading it wrong. Or maybe I’m writing it wrong. What you’re reading — what I’m writing — is anger directed at everybody and everything, starting with the (expletive) damn coronavirus and every political leader that has screwed up America’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and trickling down to all the folks who'd rather pretend their side is right, even if their side is dead wrong, than accept the truth:
The coronavirus is kicking our country’s rear end.
It’s killing us, literally and figuratively. While other countries are starting to emerge from the coronavirus nightmare, here in America we’re rolling over for some more zzzzz's. Right now you can do that thing people do, and get mad at me for writing facts you wish weren’t true, but I wish they weren’t true, too.
“Fear porn,” folks on the wrong side of so many arguments call stories like this, as if people like me enjoy writing that our country is in trouble. As if people like most of you enjoy reading it. Back in the 1930s, you think readers sneered at stories about The Great Depression, calling it “fear porn?”
That’s what we’re facing here, right now: America’s biggest running crisis since the Depression. We’re smack-dab in the middle of it, and if you can’t see that, then you’re …
… well, you’re as far off-track as I am, here. Because this story is about college football, and college sports, and what the Big Ten’s decision to play only conference games means. And what it means is this: Calamity for about 250 schools. Bowling Green was to visit Ohio State and Illinois. Not anymore. Central Michigan was to visit Nebraska and Northwestern. Not anymore.
On and on it will go, once SEC schools and the rest of the Power 5 cancel their cowardly nonconference schedule, and here’s what it will mean:
Smaller schools will lose sports. And people will lose their jobs.
Hey, take it from Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, who was able to schedule Florida State shortly before the 2018 season. Northern Illinois received $1.6 million for the game.
“Florida State, essentially, saved people’s jobs,” Frazier told the Associated Press.
According to that AP story, 39 Power 5 schools scheduled 49 “buy games” for the 2020 season for a total of $65 million. UMass is scheduled to receive $1.9 million to play Auburn, which means if that game is canceled — when that game is canceled — UMass will be out nearly 20% of its $10 million budget for football. Who’s going to pay for that loss? Perhaps the UMass track and field teams, next spring. We’ll see.
But the Power 5 schools have the biggest budgets of all, and they missed out on all that 2020 NCAA tournament revenue, and the rest is history. Like, 11 sports at Stanford; they’re history. Stanford canceled them on Wednesday as a cost-cutting measure because of the pandemic.
It’s hard out there for everyone, but what’s happening right now feels like death by a thousand cuts. First the NFL cancels the Hall of Fame game, then half its preseason schedule. Then college games get canceled in waves, first featuring HBCU schools and smaller places like Fordham, and now the entire 2020 Ivy League football season: gone.
Now this, the Big Ten canceling nonconference games. And the cancellations aren’t merely about economics. There are health concerns too, which I appreciate, though I have to ask: If some games are dangerous, aren’t all games dangerous?
Whole thing feels familiar, doesn’t it? Feels like the spring, when first we lost fans in attendance for the conference and NCAA tournament games, then we lost the conference and NCAA tournaments themselves. Then the NBA shut down. Then Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League and the NCAA spring sports schedule. It was death by a thousand cuts, one bad headline after another, when it was obvious where the overall story was headed.
And here we are again, heading in the same obvious direction, suffering death by a thousand cuts: one bad headline after another, because this country can’t figure out — or won’t pay attention to the experts, even the other countries that have figured out — how to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
We’re not wearing masks. We’re not social distancing. We are not, incredibly, taking this killer crisis seriously enough as a society. We're sneering about "fear porn" and "virtue signaling," and the results are everywhere: in the obituaries and business pages and even the sports page, with football at all levels perilously close to being canceled for the 2020 season.
It’s like what I was saying earlier, about Darwinism. Only the strongest survive.
And right now, America is so damn weak.
Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at www.facebook.com/gregg.doyel.