Speculating Big Ten College Football Game Times/TV Networks

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

MNW note: This makes my head hurt...but I think there's logic in it? Thanks to Schmolik, 64th of his/her name, for taking the time to write this up. Give your feedback in the comments; I'm gonna have a nice lie-down.

Hello, Big Ten Football fans!

College football is back in the Big Ten (at least it's scheduled to be). Games return on October 24 with each team scheduled to play eight games up to December 12. On December 19, there will be a "Champions Week" which will include the Big Ten Championship Game between the champions of the East and West Division as is normally the case. The additional games during Champions Week will allow each team to play a ninth game. It also can help the Big Ten get a second team in the College Football Playoff. In both preseason polls (AP and Coaches/ESPN/USA Today), the Ohio State Buckeyes were ranked 2nd and the Penn State Nittany Lions were ranked 7th. The winner of the October 31st game likely will win the East Division title. Champions Week allows the loser of the game a chance to play a ninth game against the runner up from the West Division for a chance at another "quality win" to impress the College Playoff Committee. Maybe both Ohio State and Penn State could both make the CFP this year.

Yesterday (Saturday, September 19) when the Big Ten schedule was revealed it was announced that two regular season games would air on FOX, Nebraska at Ohio State on October 24 (Week 1) and Michigan at Ohio State on December 12 (Week 8). Both games are scheduled to air at noon ET. The Big Ten Championship Game annually airs on FOX. As of the time of this writing, no other game times or networks have been scheduled. This can be a problem for Big Ten fans as they do not know when their teams will play. In many cases, games will not be scheduled until 12 days in advance and in some cases until 6 days in advance. It won't be as big a deal this season as fans will likely not be allowed at any games this season. This thread will do some guessing as to possibilities as to when games will be played.

In previous years, FOX and ESPN/ABC have a "draft" before the season. FOX picks one week where they get the first choice of games, then ESPN (I'll say ABC because most 1st choice games have and likely will air on ABC) gets the next pick. Networks pick weeks before the season. They don't necessarily have to pick to game before the season although they can. FOX usually reserves Michigan/Ohio State before the season begins as last season it was the highest rated Big Ten regular season conference game of the season (7.1 rating/12.42 million viewers, courtesy of Sports Media Watch, and usually is every season.

It's probably a good assumption FOX chose the last week of the season (Dec. 12) as its first pick this season. I also assume that the entire draft has been completed because FOX wouldn't be able to announce they have Nebraska at Ohio State and Michigan at Ohio State if ABC/ESPN hadn't been able to pick at least one week between them (and possibly more).

So if ABC has the second pick after Michigan/Ohio State, the second highest rated Big Ten regular season game in 2019 was Ohio State/Penn State (5.8/9.43 million). So if I were ABC, my pick would be Halloween (Week 2). In addition to Ohio State at Penn State, Michigan State at Michigan and Wisconsin at Nebraska are also scheduled the same day. I'm surprised OSU/PSU wasn't already announced. Only one week of games is before then. If Ohio State and/or Penn State both lose Week 1, would the game be any less attractive? I would guess the Ohio State/Penn State game airs in prime time on Halloween. I don't know if many parents plan to take their kids trick or treating this year because of COVID-19 but OSU and PSU fans will have to do it before game time. Right now, Michigan State at Michigan would probably be the second pick of the week and assuming FOX gets it, they would air it in the Big Noon slot although I could also see Wisconsin-Nebraska airing then as well. FOX might choose a six day hold to see if Michigan wins or loses their first game at Minnesota before picking between MSU/Mich and Wisc/Neb.

The next highest rated 2019 regular season Big Ten games on the 2020 schedule would be Penn State/Michigan (4.0/6.66M), Ohio State/Michigan State (3.9/6.68), and Nebraska/Ohio State (3.5/6.14M). We know Nebraska/Ohio State was an odd numbered pick, was it the 3rd pick or the 5th pick? The PSU/Mich and OSU/Mich games were a bit higher rated/viewed so chances are those two games/weeks would be chosen ahead of Neb/OSU. On the other hand, the fact that Neb/OSU is the season opener might make the game more attractive. Penn State at Michigan is November 28, the Saturday after Thanksgiving which is traditionally the week of Michigan/Ohio State and a weekend that draws a high audience (is it because of many rivalry games or because of the long weekend though?) Ohio State at Michigan State is December 5, the second to last week of the season. November 28 also has Minnesota at Wisconsin and Nebraska at Iowa although there is a chance Nebraska/Iowa moves to Black Friday as it has been in previous years. Another game.week I like is Wisconsin/Michigan on November 14 although they were rated lower in 2019 (3.1/4.73M). Also on Nov. 14 is Penn State at Nebraska and Iowa at Minnesota.The remaining two weeks are November 21 (top games are Indiana at Ohio State and Iowa at Penn State) and November 7 (best game is Michigan at Indiana). Since Ohio State is playing Rutgers that week, I would assume November 7 will be the "last choice" and ESPN/ABC will have the top pick that week.

So if you go by draft:

1) FOX - Dec. 12 (Michigan at Ohio State)

2) ABC - Oct. 31 (Ohio State at Penn State)

3) FOX - Nov. 28 (Penn State at Michigan)

4) ABC - Dec. 5 (Ohio State at Michigan State)

5) FOX - Oct. 24 (Nebraska at Ohio State)

6) ABC - Nov. 14 (Wisconsin at Michigan)

7) FOX - Nov. 21 (Indiana at Ohio State)

8) ABC - Nov. 7 (Michigan at Indiana)

FOX 1st choice: Oct. 24, Nov. 21, Nov. 28, Dec. 12

ABC 1st choice: Oct. 31, Nov. 7, Nov. 14, Dec. 5

FOX prefers to air its biggest games in the noon ET slot (Big Noon). Last year Ohio State/Michigan, Penn State/Ohio State, Michigan/Wisconsin, Michigan/Michigan State, and Wisconsin/Ohio State (they won't play in the 2020 regular season) were all scheduled at noon. ABC on the other hand likes prime time games (Nebraska/Ohio State, Michigan State/Ohio State,Penn State/Iowa, and Michigan/Penn State all aired at 7:30pm ET). However, Big Ten games rarely are scheduled at night in November because it is too cold. Penn State/Minnesota aired at noon ET on Nov. 9 while Wisconsin/Minnesota aired at 3:30pm ET on Nov. 30. So expect most big ABC games in November or December to not air in prime time.

Last year Penn State/Minnesota aired at noon because they didn't want to play in prime time and LSU/Alabama aired on CBS at 3:30pm ET and ABC didn't want to air a big PSU/Minn game vs. the blockbuster game (LSU/Alabama was the highest rated regular season game in 2019, 9.7/16.64 million viewers!) This year, Alabama/LSU play on November 14, the same day as Wisconsin/Michigan. So if I were ABC, I would air the game at noon ET if I had it to avoid 'Bama/LSU (scheduled for 6pm ET on CBS). I'd guess Wisconsin/Michigan will air at noon whether it is chosen by FOX or ABC. I have FOX getting Penn State/Michigan on November 28 but let's say ABC gets it. The Iron Bowl (Auburn at Alabama) is scheduled for November 28. It hasn't yet been picked by CBS but it has been chosen by CBS almost every year. If I'm ABC, do I want to air Penn State/Michigan vs. Auburn/Alabama? Probably not. That's another game I see airing at noon whether it airs on FOX or ABC.

So early guesses for times/networks for marquee games (no one outside of Rutgers and Purdue cares when Rutgers/Purdue is played). All times ET.

Oct. 24:

Nebraska at Ohio State, noon (FOX) - Confirmed

Michigan at Minnesota, 7:30pm (ABC)

I can see Penn State at Indiana also airing on FOX or ABC at 3:30pm.

Oct. 31:

Michigan State at Michigan, noon (FOX)

Ohio State at Penn State, 7:30pm (ABC)

I can see Wisconsin at Nebraska also airing on FOX or ABC at 3:30pm

Nov. 7:

TBD, noon (FOX)

Michigan at Indiana, 3:30pm (ABC)

Nov. 14:

Wisconsin at Michigan, noon (ABC)

Penn State at Nebraska or Iowa at Minnesota, noon (FOX)

Nov. 21:

Indiana at Ohio State or Iowa at Penn State, noon (FOX)

Game not chosen by FOX, 3:30pm (ABC)

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma is scheduled for this date. I expect it to be on ABC at 7:30pm because FOX is scheduled to air Oklahoma vs. Texas on Oct. 10 at noon and FOX and ESPN also alternate Big 12 picks. If FOX gets Bedlam, they might air it at noon and their Big Ten pick goes to 3:30pm

Nov. 28:

Penn State at Michigan, noon (FOX)

Minnesota at Wisconsin, noon or 3:30pm (ABC) - Last year ABC wanted to avoid OSU/Mich. Would they want to avoid PSU/Mich or Aub/Ala?

Dec. 5:

Ohio State at Michigan State, 3:30pm (ABC)

FOX's top Big Ten game might also air at 3:30pm as Baylor at Oklahoma is this week and since that is a repeat of last season's Big 12 Championship Game that might get priority for the Big Noon game over any Big Ten game this week unless FOX gets OSU/MSU.

Dec. 12:

Michigan at Ohio State, noon (FOX) - Confirmed

Wisconsin at Iowa or Michigan State at Penn State, 3:30pm (ABC)