Big Ten elim­i­nates non­con­fer­ence foot­ball games this sea­son to re­duce travel dur­ing pan­demic

League an­nounces plans to elim­i­nate non­con­fer­ence games this fall in ef­fort to limit travel

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - JOE COW­LEY jcow­ley@sun­times.com | @JCow­leyHoops

The highly an­tic­i­pated home­and-home matchup be­tween col­lege foot­ball go­liaths Alabama and Ohio State is still on.

Then again, the first game isn’t sched­uled un­til Sept. 18, 2027, in Colum­bus, Ohio, so the Big Ten and South­east­ern con­fer­ences have time on their side to make sure they can pull it off.

Any­thing be­fore that? Noth­ing is promised.

Thurs­day was just a re­minder of that.

The Big Ten — and soon the SEC, ac­cord­ing to sources — will pause non­con­fer­ence sched­ules for all sports, in­clud­ing foot­ball, this fall in an ef­fort to elim­i­nate ex­tra long-dis­tance travel some schools were plan­ning to take.

In a fol­low-the-money busi­ness such as col­lege foot­ball, if the Big Ten and SEC opt to play con­fer­ence games only, ex­pect all the Power 5 con­fer­ences to fol­low suit.

The un­known is what will hap­pen to an­nual non­con­fer­ence ri­val­ries, such as Florida-Florida State and South Carolina-Clem­son, and how many con­fer­ence games will be added.

Mul­ti­ple out­lets re­ported the Big Ten and SEC would like to make sure each foot­ball team plays at least 10 games, but the sched­ul­ing would have to be fig­ured out.

Mean­while, the eco­nomic fall­out for smaller-con­fer­ence teams that count on big pay­days by trav­el­ing to places such as Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or Ann Ar­bor, Michi­gan, to take on pow­er­house teams will be mon­u­men­tal.

The eco­nomic hit the coronaviru­s pan­demic has wreaked on col­lege sports al­ready is chang­ing the land­scape mov­ing for­ward.

Need ev­i­dence? Stan­ford an­nounced Wed­nes­day it is cut­ting 11 var­sity sports pro­grams. That news came on the same day that the Ivy League sus­pended all fall sports and that the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence an­nounced no fall sports would start be­fore Sept. 1.

Col­leges across the coun­try have been cut­ting lower-rev­enue sports for the last few months, and it’s only go­ing to get worse.

The Big Ten pulling the plug on non­con­fer­ence games this fall af­fects 36 sched­uled op­po­nents, in­clud­ing 28 from the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion.

That lit­tle ‘‘scrim­mage’’ Ohio State likes to run ev­ery Septem­ber against a Mid-Amer­i­can Con­fer­ence school? Gone.

This sea­son it was against Bowl­ing Green, which also was count­ing on a pay­check from its visit to Illi­nois in Septem­ber.

North­ern Illi­nois, Ball State, BYU, Cen­tral Michi­gan and Con­necti­cut were sched­uled to play two Big Ten teams this fall, too.

As far as the mar­quee Big Ten games that are off the sched­ule, how about Michi­gan at Washington on Sept. 5 and Ohio State at Ore­gon on Sept. 12? Na­tion­ally, cross Alabama-USC and Ok­la­homa-Ten­nessee off the docket.

That’s where the dam­age starts. Where does it end for col­lege sports? Well, 2027 in Colum­bus can’t come soon enough.

AP

Non­con­fer­ence games, such as this one be­tween Illi­nois and Akron, won’t take place in the Big Ten this fall.

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