Canceled Gophers games loom large as championship week approaches

Minnesota was not in contention for the Big Ten championship game, but the cancellation against Wisconsin significantly changed the outlook for the championship.

The+Gopher+and+Wolverine+lines+clash+at+TCF+Bank+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+24.+Minnesota+fell+to+Michigan+49-24+in+their+first+showing+of+the+season.

Nur B. Adam

The Gopher and Wolverine lines clash at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 24. Minnesota fell to Michigan 49-24 in their first showing of the season.

Brendan O'Brien

College football during a pandemic was surely going to be strange compared to normal seasons.

But now as the season has continued to move forward, the Big Ten is dealing with a potentially chaotic situation with its championship, and Minnesota is in the middle of it.

The Gophers are not in contention for the conference championship with a 2-3 record, but the COVID-19 outbreak that spread throughout the program has complicated matters for Wisconsin and the Big Ten as a whole. Early last week in a weekly press conference, Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck said he loves rivalry games because of the uncertainty of what will happen.

Except we do know what happened: nothing. Nothing happened this past week on rivalry Saturday because the game against Wisconsin was canceled. Granted, Fleck did say this before the program discovered more positive cases and had to shut down practices.

Nevertheless, the cancellation of Saturday’s game has had major implications for the rest of the season for the Big Ten. For the Gophers, missing the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe is disappointing, but it is only that. On the other side, the loss of the game is likely the final blow to the Badgers’ chances of making the Big Ten championship game.

Wisconsin missed two games earlier this season due to a COVID-19 outbreak in its own locker room and now will most likely fail to play enough games to win the West division.

In the East division, Ohio State has also had two games canceled and is now facing the same issue. The Buckeyes absence from the conference championship would be even more significant as they are competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

The conference said prioritizing the health and safety of student-athletes and coaches was important throughout this season. The Big Ten implemented detailed protocols for every program to follow and had an eight-week conference-only schedule to try to mitigate the spread of the virus throughout the fourteen team league.

But the Big Ten is now facing a slight drawback in the short-term of not having the flexibility to reschedule games later in the season. While other conferences began playing earlier and were able to postpone games to a later date if needed, the Big Ten gave itself only eight weeks to finish the season knowing COVID-19 might cause some games to be canceled.

And instead of seeing a matchup between Wisconsin and Ohio State like many predicted at the beginning of the season, Northwestern and Indiana could potentially battle for the Big Ten crown because those teams have played more games.
Minnesota was supposed to host Northwestern this weekend but that game was also canceled as the Gophers are recovering from their COVID-19 outbreak.