As a result of the Big Ten’s decision to cancel all non-conference football games for the 2020 season, Ohio State will not travel to Oregon or host Bowling Green or Buffalo this year.
Ideally, each of those non-conference games will still happen in another year.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Thursday that he had spoken with the athletic directors from all three of those schools and that they have all agreed to have discussions about hopefully rescheduling those games for future seasons.
“I called the three athletic directors today – Mark (Alnutt) at Buffalo, Bob (Moosbrugger) at Bowling Green and Rob (Mullens) at Oregon – and shared with them what our announcement would be. They’re all going through similar conversations in our leagues, so they were totally understanding, but I shared with them that I would call next week and see if we can try and reschedule,” Smith said.
Mullens said in a statement on Thursday that Oregon, who will also play no non-conference games in 2020 after the Pac-12 followed the Big Ten’s lead on Friday, has “agreed to have ongoing discussions about the options for rescheduling the Oregon home game in our series.” Moosbrugger and Alnutt both said in statements that it was “disappointing” their schools would be unable to play football games at Ohio State this year, but also said they understood that difficult decisions had to be made.
“The last time we played in the Horseshoe, our All-American linebacker Khalil Mack had one of the finest performances of any player in the country and it vaulted him into the national spotlight,” Alnutt said. “We were looking forward to having that opportunity again to showcase our program nationally. We will have continued discussions with Ohio State to reschedule this game in a future season.”
Actually making those rescheduled games happen, however, could be easier said than done, given that the Buckeyes’ schedules for four of the next five seasons are already completely full.
Rescheduling the Oregon game will presumably be the top priority, given that the Ducks are scheduled to play at Ohio Stadium next year. That will also be the most difficult game to reschedule, though, because the Buckeyes already have at least one Power 5 non-conference opponent lined up for every season through 2028 (plus Georgia in 2030 and 2031) and typically avoid playing more than one road non-conference game every two years in order to host seven home games per season.
Likewise, Oregon already has Power 5 non-conference opponents lined up for every season through 2030, with no openings on any of its non-conference schedules until 2027.
All of that said, Ohio State and Oregon will have to come to a revised agreement one way or another, because Oregon isn’t going to make the trip to Columbus next year without a return home game or a significant payout.
“It’s too early to know that,” Smith said when asked Thursday if next year’s home game against Oregon would still happen. “We didn’t get into details. (Mullens) and I will probably chat next week.”
As for the games against Bowling Green and Buffalo, the earliest potential reschedulings for those games would be in 2024, for which Ohio State still has two openings for home games against Group of 5 teams to pair with a road game at Washington. Ohio State and Bowling Green both have openings for Sept. 14, 2024, while Ohio State and Buffalo both have openings for Sept. 21, 2024, so those could be natural landing spots for the Falcons and Bulls to make their trips to the Shoe.
Should those dates not come together, Ohio State has one opening for a Group of 5 non-conference opponent in 2026 and has not yet scheduled any non-conference games against non-Power 5 teams for 2027 or later.
Even if those games are rescheduled, though, there’s still the question of whether Ohio State will need to make its scheduled payouts of $1.2 million to Bowling Green and $1.8 million to Buffalo. The Mid-American Conference has not yet moved to cancel non-conference games for the 2020 season, and given that Group of 5 programs typically rely heavily on the payouts they receive from away games at Power 5 schools, losing those payouts could be substantially damaging to those teams’ budgets.
The contracts for those games state that OSU would be responsible for paying the full amount promised to each of those schools minus the payouts received by those schools for any games scheduled to replace the Buckeyes on the schedule. The contracts also include a clause, however, that no payout is required if “it becomes impossible to play the game for reasons that include “unforeseen catastrophes or disasters beyond the control of either party.”
Whether that clause would be applicable to the COVID-19 pandemic remains uncertain, but legal experts have suggested that such force majeure clauses are less likely to be enforceable if the Big Ten proceeds forward with playing conference games.
It's gonna be really difficult for them to unilaterally cancel a contract. They can't argue force majeure (pandemic) if they are perfectly fine playing each other. Canceling the season is one thing, selective cancellations don't really work.— Jason Belzer (@JasonBelzer) July 9, 2020
Certainly, Ohio State will look to settle any payout disputes over its canceled games during the rescheduling process to prevent any legal challenges from those schools. As of Thursday, however, Smith said he wasn’t sure whether Ohio State would ultimately have to make those payouts to Bowling Green and Buffalo.
“Again, I’ll talk to them next week and we’ll determine what we have to do or not do,” Smith said.
If all goes as hoped with the rescheduling process, Ohio State will still host Oregon, Buffalo and Bowling Green in future seasons while also making an eventual trip to Eugene to play the Ducks at Autzen Stadium. But because non-conference college football games are typically scheduled out years in advance, and everyone is now dealing with unprecedented circumstances due to COVID-19, there are significant hurdles that will need to be overcome to make that happen in a way that satisfies all parties involved.