Ohio State clinched its berth in the Big Ten Championship Game on Wednesday.
The Big Ten officially erased the six-game requirement to be eligible for this year's conference championship game, clearing the path for Ohio State to represent the Big Ten East next week in Indianapolis even though the Buckeyes have played only five games.
“The decision was based on a competitive analysis which determined that Ohio State would have advanced to the Big Ten Football Championship Game based on its undefeated record and head-to-head victory over Indiana regardless of a win or loss against Michigan,” the Big Ten said in a statement.
Ryan Day expressed his appreciation for the Big Ten's decision in a statement on Wednesday evening.
“On behalf of Ohio State University, the players, all those associated with the football program and our fans, I am appreciative of our Big Ten Conference colleagues for reconsidering the six-game requirement to qualify for the Big Ten championship game,” Day said. “A lot of changes have happened since that recommendation was put in place. I know making this decision was not easy, and I am thankful for the opportunity our players will now have to play in Indianapolis as an undefeated East Division champion.”
On behalf of our university, the players, fans and all those associated with @OhioStateFB, I am thankful for the opportunity our student-athletes will now have to play in the Big Ten championship game as an undefeated East Division champion. #GoBuckeyes— Kristina M. Johnson (@PresKMJohnson) December 9, 2020
Because Ohio State is undefeated and already has a head-to-head win over one-loss Indiana, and every other team in the Big Ten East has lost at least two games, the Buckeyes will represent the East division in the conference title game for the fourth year in a row even if they don't play this weekend or lose to a yet-to-be-scheduled opponent.
Northwestern has already clinched the West division's berth in the Big Ten Championship Game, setting up a rematch of the 2018 Big Ten Championship Game, which Ohio State won 45-24.
In a change from previous years, when the game has been played in primetime, next weekend's Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is scheduled to kick off at noon.
Wednesday's decision to remove the six-game minimum for the Big Ten Championship Game comes just one day after Ohio State's game against Michigan was canceled, leaving the Buckeyes without a sixth regular season game. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, there was still no word on Ohio State lining up a replacement game for this weekend; if it doesn't, it would have an unexpected off weekend for the third time in five weeks.
That would have made the Buckeyes ineligible for the Big Ten Championship Game, depriving them of the opportunity to win their fourth straight conference title even though they are the conference's only undefeated team – and even though they would have made the Big Ten Championship Game even if they lost to Michigan this weekend. Indiana, with a 6-1 record, would have represented the Big Ten East even though it lost to Ohio State.
As the Big Ten's only remaining College Football Playoff contender, though, Ohio State has more to gain by playing in the conference championship game than anyone else. Had the Buckeyes been left out, the conference championship game would have been without the team widely considered to be conference's best, all the while punishing Ohio State for failing to meet an arbitrary benchmark – albeit one that had been in place all season – while being the only team in the conference to have two separate games canceled by its opponents.
One additional possible incentive for Wednesday's rule change: Indiana has currently paused all team activities due to an increase of COVID-19 cases in its program. Had the Hoosiers been unable to play next week, the only other eligible teams to represent the East in the Big Ten Championship Game would have been four teams that currently have losing records (Michigan State, Michigan, Rutgers and Penn State).
Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson said in a statement Wednesday that while Indiana was “disappointed” in the Big Ten's decision, “we had a chance to earn our spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, but ultimately fell a touchdown short on the road against a great Ohio State team.”
IU Vice President & Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Scott Dolson Statement pic.twitter.com/ByOMRiS75B— Indiana Football (@IndianaFootball) December 9, 2020