If we’ve learned one thing about sports in 2020, it’s that very little, if anything, will be perfect. From delayed schedules, games with little or no attendance, and the absence of rivalry matchups, fans are trudging through mental obstacles just to enjoy their favorite sports.
On Wednesday, college hockey fans finally received some clarity when the Big Ten announced a 24-game conference schedule, plus four home games per team against Arizona State, an independent team looking for a temporary conference port in the COVID-19 storm.
Is it perfect? No, it’s not. Any Gophers schedule that doesn’t have at least one series against North Dakota, not to mention Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, is flawed. With differences in COVID-19 testing availability and frequency, the Big Ten and other conferences didn’t agree to allow nonconference play.
“The protocols for COVID testing became a huge part of anyone’s decision,’’ Gophers coach Bob Motzko said.
Arizona State, coach Greg Powers said, was happy to agree to the Big Ten’s testing protocols, which include daily antigen testing and enhanced cardiac screening. The Pac-12, of which Arizona State is a member in other sports, has testing that matches the Big Ten protocols.
Big Ten teams can begin play Nov. 13, though each team’s exact schedule hasn’t been released. Red Berenson, the former Michigan coach who serves as special advisor to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, stressed the importance of the mid-November return.
“The starting date of our schedule was huge,’’ Berenson said in a BTN interview. “You saw what happened with the Ivy League when they announced they weren’t going to play until January. Harvard lost five players [to professional hockey] that first week.’’
Arizona State’s addition serves dual purposes: The seven-team Big Ten will avoid a weekly bye for one squad, and the Sun Devils get to play a season, even if it’s all on the road.
“When the Big Ten offered [Powers] the opportunity … they jumped at it,’’ Berenson said. “They only had two games on their schedule. They may have had to cancel their schedule had we not given them the opportunity.’’
On first glance, it might appear the Sun Devils have a trial run at becoming the eighth Big Ten school. However, that isn’t necessarily the case. Illinois was poised to make the move from club to varsity status and join the Big Ten last spring, but plans were paused when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
When asked about possibly auditioning for Big Ten membership, Powers replied, “I don’t know. Maybe. Because we were forced to look at it through the lens of right now, that’s all we were really focused on. … We’ll worry about anything beyond this year when it’s time.’’
An all-road schedule might not be the perfect solution for Arizona State, just as missing out on playing local rivals isn’t perfect for the Gophers. In 2020, as we know, perfection is tough to attain.
For college hockey fans, it might be good this season to take the advice of Stephen Stills: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.