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Will the Big Ten have non-conference games? SHOULD they?

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Southern California vs Iowa
Kirk is full of questions too.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As the world continues to spin madly on and overwhelming numbers of people seem to forget we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic as they lean their mask-less faces to sneeze over the nectarines at the supermarket, the world of college athletics continues to consider options for the 2020-2021 sports seasons.

Today, another proposal came to the surface: eliminating non-conference football games, and going to a shorter, conference-only season. According to the Dan Patrick Show, the Big Ten and Pac-12 are currently “planning” to play only conference games this season. (You can listen here.)

The logic is a little fuzzy to me on this—the Big Ten, for instance, already covers half of the country, so conference play is still going to involve Nebraska-New Jersey traveling. So eliminating non-con doesn’t necessarily reduce travel exposure (not to mention that many non-con games are regional— see Wisconsin and Notre Dame). The appeal may be one of timing, with the belief that somehow waiting part of another month will lessen risk. This also seems half-baked, as it’s unlikely those three weeks will yield any change in managing or mitigating the disease. It is possible that some national leaders may gaslight a significant portion of the country into believing that there IS no virus by October, but that, of course, does not mean that aligns with reality.

So, it’s head-scratching proposition in many ways. That means it’s the perfect question to pose to our group of aimless miscreants (you) and aimless idiots (us). Here are some proposals that MNW came up with:

Do you like this no non-con idea? If not, what do you think the conference should do instead?

  • 9-game schedule, life goes on
  • Keep one non-conference game
  • Make it a full 12-game conference schedule
  • Other

Also, what non-conference game would you miss this season if this proposal is adopted?

WhiteSpeedReceiver: I’d be lying if I said that losing the BYU game would be a punch in the junk, though I was really looking forward to offering Grain Belts to Mormons, then acting indignantly when they declined. But the thought of Minnesota-Iowa opening on a Friday night with no opportunity to knock the rust off is a bit terrifying.

I’d like to have a 12-game B1G season, but I doubt that’d ever fly. 1) That increases the chances of an outbreak, and 2) No way in hell anyone can convince Ohio State that they don’t deserve 9 home games, global pandemic or not.

At the end of the day, any chance to watch Rashod Bateman one last time is better than none. Gimme some football.

Pkloa: Clearly I would miss the Penn State at Virginia Tech game. I’ve been looking forward to this since the game was announced. The more time passes, the more I think all college sports should be put on hold. Yes, it sucks that we are missing out on sports that the students love to play, and that we love to watch, but the value of entertainment is just not worth the risk to the population.

Thump: Illinois might as well not play if that’s the case. This was our best shot at 8 wins in a generation, but that required three games against Illinois State, UConn and Bowling Green. Six wins was more likely than eight, but the point is there was a path to eight. There sure as hell isn’t now. there’s a path to three at the most.

There’s only one game on our schedule that i’m pretty sure we can win. We have decent shots to beat Nebraska and Purdue, and perhaps could stumble our way to two more wins. Hooray, 5-5! We’re more likely to beat Ohio State than to beat Northwestern though.

Lots-of-Thoughts Beez: I cannot imagine a worse non-con for my particular brand of Wisconsin fandom to miss out on than the 2020 non-con. There is supposed to be a Notre Dame game at Lambeau Field, which is a top tier non-con game for most teams in any season. For me, though, the real paper-cut-that-you-get-lemon-juice-in is the App State at Wisconsin game getting canceled. In addition to missing a chance to see my two favorite teams play and Wisconsin getting a home game against a GOOD team (finished 19th last year, won’t be ranked this year to start because gotta make room for Texas and Nebraska and UCF!), it was exceptionally likely I would have gotten free, awesome tickets to the game. Without a non-con, the season goes from “holy shit, what a slate of games!” to, “so we’ve got Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa I guess?” Losing the non-con sucks.

Unrelated to my personal fandom, though, there’s an obvious question: If it’s too risky to play the full schedule, how is it remotely safe to play a shortened schedule? Are we pretending there’s something magical about only traveling the country from Nebraska to Maryland/New Jersey that means people won’t get sick, but somehow if somebody travels to Texas or has a North Carolina team come into town, the players, coaches, and staff will all get horribly virus ridden?If it’s not safe enough to play the non-conference schedule, it’s not safe enough to play the conference-only schedule, and pretending otherwise REALLY highlights how effing absurd it is that the players don’t get paid, because playing a shortened schedule is all about making sure the coaches, athletic departments, and ESPN/ABC get paid.

Playing a shortened schedule is only slightly less dumb than playing games at schools where the campuses are still closed. Again, if it’s not safe enough to act 100% normally for 100% of the season, it’s not safe enough to act 90% normally for 75% of the season.

Andrew K: Consistent with the obvious theme of Do Whatever You Must To Save Some Kind Of Season, MSU’s noncon was going to be interesting, if likely very punishing - a trip to BYU and homecoming against Miami (FL) were going to make Bowl eligibility a helluva lot harder anyway.

I don’t know enough about epidemiology to say if there’s an appreciable difference in a 12-game conference schedule versus a normal noncon, but it seems counterintuitive that it’s any better to travel for a game against Nebraska or Maryland than to BYU. You’re still multiple states away, interacting with 150 other people who have themselves mingled with thousands more locals, then going back to your own community.

DJ: Maryland would only be favored in two games and I’m not convinced they should be favored against MSU end of season. Perhaps three games depending on NW. Soooo, 3-6? Awesome. There was a sort of path to 5-6 wins but not without non-con. The only reason this is a thing is because they want to find a way to get paid. If money wasn’t involved it would be cancelled.

MNW: So I am more on the thread of pkloa that I think the season should be canceled or, if you can reconcile the unpaid labor bit, played in front of no fans.

You want to have the season, fine. But I don’t trust fifty drunk Iowa fans, say nothing of 35,000 or even the full house of almost 70,000, to not become a hotspot for coronavirus. I don’t think it’s worth the risk, and the 120 mouthbreathers at BHGP continuously intoning “Then just don’t go! Let those of us healthy people take the risk” ought to be Clockwork Oranged to a public health class or just left on an iceberg for good.

Assuming we’re talking about the season now...uh, I’m fine with Northwestern losing the non-conference. Central Michigan, Tulane, and a November home game with Morgan fucking State is not exactly inspiring, and sure, just give me 9 Big Ten games.

I’d love if the conference added a tenth to make up for it, power-matched as closely as possible on last year’s finish, but I doubt that’s realistic.

Thump: I would actually be pretty mad if they played a 12 game conference slate, only short of round robin?!?!?!

Beez: I assume the 12-game is premised on kicking Rutger out.

StewMonkey: This whole thing seems stupid and pointless. There seems to be daily updates with more and more athletes already testing positive, and it’s only going to get worse when campuses get full. Throw in 30k fans and the interaction with 100+ athletes in a game and it’s patently ridiculous. Just move everything to the spring.

DJ: Play the games for the TV money I guess but use empty stadiums. Shouldn’t play at all tbh. Not sure how you isolate athletes in a way to keep them away from everyone but themselves when students return.

BRT: I’m going to leave aside the issue of whether they should be playing at all (they shouldn’t and they will) and stick to the question at hand: honestly, I wouldn’t miss OOC games. The first week is exciting because YAY football is back! Then it’s sitting through two weeks of watching Nebraska struggle through irrelevant opponents. I’d rather cut straight to watching us struggle against opponents I’m actually interested in.


pokes head out of pile of project documents and spreadsheets

Ok, cool. Hook ‘em.


What do you think of a season with no non-con?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Fine with me!
    (45 votes)
  • 47%
    I’d miss non-con
    (116 votes)
  • 34%
    No one should be playing any games this fall
    (83 votes)
244 votes total Vote Now


Assuming no non-con is a go, how would you like to see it handled?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    9-game schedule, life goes on
    (90 votes)
  • 11%
    Keep one conference game
    (24 votes)
  • 39%
    Make it a full 12-game schedule, conference only
    (81 votes)
  • 4%
    Other (tell us in the comments!)
    (10 votes)
205 votes total Vote Now