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Big Ten football tiebreaker scenarios must also adjust to coronavirus chaos: College football Monday Madness

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Big Ten Conference believed its division champion tiebreaker scenarios accounted for every possible logjam.

Two teams tie with the same number of wins and losses? No problem. Three or more teams tied? Child’s play. The Big Ten set up an eight-factor process to break the tie. Only after all possible comparisons are exhausted does the last resort — random draw — come into play.

Even that carefully prepared, multistep document could not account for the biggest threat to well-laid plans in 2020 — the coronavirus pandemic. The Big Ten’s eight-games-in-as-many-weeks regular season, followed by the crossover championship weekend, allows no room for postponements. If a team can’t play one week, it will not make that game up.

Consider:

• Two divisional foes end the season with the same number of losses, but a different number of wins because one of them had to cancel a game due to positive COVID-19 tests. Does that count as a tie for the division championship?

• What about three teams tied in the loss column, all playing a different number of games, some of them not playing all of their divisional opponents?

• Here’s a true brain-breaker for Big Ten bigwigs: Ohio State and Penn State cancel their Week 2 game. Both go undefeated in their other games. Who goes to the Big Ten championship game? (Or if you prefer, imagine OSU and Michigan going 7-0 and then having to cancel The Game.)

I can confirm the Big Ten has pondered that “oh crap” moment and the others above. As of today, it does not have answers. But from what I’ve heard from a league source, a policy that governs these doomsday scenarios will be in place by opening day.

When that document comes out, expect something more complicated than

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Business of Football: Big Ten returns; Tyrod Taylor’s legal case

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Before getting to the usual column, a word about today’s breaking news of positive COVID-19 tests shutting down team activities in the NFL:

Despite all the vigilance that the NFL and its players have shown, it was inevitable that COVID-19 would rear its head with a group of players and/or team personnel. That has now happened with the Titans and, by extension, their opponent on Sunday, the Vikings. It is way too early for alarm, as this “abundance of caution” (keeping teams out of their facilities) is what we have all prepared for. But as I said throughout the offseason, playing through the pandemic is no sure thing. The NFL has powered through with confidence since March: Free agency, the draft and training camp all went full speed ahead with necessary testing and precautions. And the first month of the season seemed surprisingly normal, with the biggest COVID-19 story line being whether coaches should be fined for not wearing masks properly. Yet here we are, and it is naive to think we won’t be here again. As the theme of this and so many of my other columns says, the business of sports usually wins, and it has won with the NFL … so far. Time will tell going forward.

Now where were we?

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News moves fast in the business of football, as developments in this unprecedented and unique season amid COVID-19 continue. We begin with a stunning—although not surprising—reversal in college football.

Big Ten business over all

In August, the Big Ten surprisingly (to me) prioritized the health and safety of its players and staff over economics by opting not to play in 2020. The decision resonated as 1) other Power 5 conferences (the SEC, Big 12 and ACC) reached the opposite decision; and 2) the economic impact