The Big Ten on Wednesday announced that it had changed its minimum eligibility requirements for participating in the conference championship game, clearing Ohio State to play for the league title despite having played only five games. The Buckeyes' head-to-head win meant that it simply had to play MI on Saturday to get to six games to clinch the Big Ten East division title.
The decision to eliminate the six-game minimum was based, the conference said, "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 IN regardless of a win or loss against MI".
If Ohio State found another opponent to replace MI, the Buckeyes would still win the East, win or lose.
Saying he was "appreciative of our Big Ten Conference colleagues for reconsidering the six-game requirement", Ohio State Coach Ryan Day declared in a statement, "A lot of changes have happened since that recommendation was put in place". The No. 4 Buckeyes are 5-0 and saw Saturday's game against MI canceled because the Wolverines are unable to play due to COVID-19.
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No. 12 IN would have played No. 14 Northwestern had Ohio State remained ineligible for the title game.
The six-game minimum was installed before the season in case of pandemic-induced postponements, though it's clear that Big Ten schools didn't anticipate so many games getting canceled in 2020. The Hoosiers suffered their only loss to Ohio State, 42-35 on November 21.
For the Buckeyes, this was a bad outcome, as the Big Ten decided before the season that a team would need at least six games to qualify for the conference championship.