In a Zoom press conference with local media Tuesday afternoon, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel argued that Ohio State should be selected for next month’s College Football Playoff.
The Buckeyes’ chances for selection received a blow Tuesday morning, when it was announced that their game against Michigan was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Wolverines’ program. Ohio State is 5-0 and in first place in the Big Ten East, with the tiebreaker over second-place Indiana, who is 6-1. However, the Big Ten rules established when the conference announced its return to play state that a team must play at least six games in order to be eligible for the Conference Championship Game. As a result of Saturday’s game against Michigan being canceled, the Buckeyes no longer meet this criterion, meaning they would have to play Iowa — the Big Ten West’s second-place team — during the conference’s “Championship Week.”
And while Ohio State was still ranked fourth in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings, conference titles are an official part of the CFP committee’s decision-making process.
“I just want to make it clear, I think Ohio State is one of the top four teams in this country,” Manuel said Tuesday. “(It) deserves the opportunity in the conversation about their success this season and would be a great representative to the College Football Playoff if they are chosen. So for me, that’s where I stand.”
In order to bolster the Buckeyes’ chances, Manuel, other Big Ten athletic directors and conference commissioner Kevin Warren have discussed multiple possible alterations to the final two weeks of the season.
“We made decisions, months ago now, about six out of eight games as a requirement to play in the Big Ten Championship Game) not knowing where this pandemic would take us,” Manuel said. “We were all hoping to play all eight games.”
As COVID-19 cases spike around the country, that hasn’t happened. 122 FBS games have been canceled this season. In the Big Ten, only four teams have yet to have a game canceled. At least three will play five or fewer.
“I don’t believe that anybody, Ohio State or any other team, should just be punished by decisions we made by looking at eight games and saying play six, not knowing the effects of what (would happen),” Manuel said. “So I would be open and I think the conference would be open to having a discussion about whether or not we will make adjustments, whether or not schedules will be adjusted to get Ohio State to play enough games with six or play in the championship with five. I don’t think we should just hunker down. … (These are) unprecedented times for everybody, and we need to make sure that we are flexible and able to move and make decisions based on the data that we have.”
Meanwhile, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh remained mum when asked the same question.
“There’ll be more decisions made, and we’ll continue to follow those decisions, what’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players,” Harbaugh said.
The two possible ways for Ohio State to qualify for the Conference Championship Game would be removing the six-game requirement or scheduling another game for them this weekend, Dec. 12. As of Tuesday evening, no other Big Ten games have been canceled for this week.
However, Purdue canceled practice Tuesday due to COVID-19 concerns. The Boilermakers are scheduled to play Indiana this weekend, setting up the potential for a rematch between the Hoosiers and Buckeyes to determine the division if that game is canceled.
While college football games are notorious for being scheduled years in advance, multiple games around the country have been scheduled on less than a week’s notice this season in order to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 cancellations.
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