The wheels are coming off the 2020 Big Ten football season, not entirely surprising considering it was cobbled together in late September as a way to keep overstuffed athletics departments afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Minnesota on Monday canceled its second game in two weeks, and Michigan paused its season while awaiting confirmation on positive antigen tests among its players. COVID outbreaks at Maryland, Wisconsin and Ohio State have caused cancellations this season, as well.

If not quite a disaster, it’s been a failure. In fairness, the conference expected the country to be in better shape by now, but in the present it seems clear college football has been part of the problem.

That the conference championship is damaged beyond repair is of far less concern than the fact that dozens of student-athletes have contracted a potentially fatal disease whose long-term effects remain largely unknown.

For TV money.

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These student-athletes aren’t likely to wind up intubated in an ICU, but their health has been compromised in an effort to keep revenue coming in during a pandemic. Because major college athletics departments have grown untenably big, because football and basketball coaches make inordinate amounts of money and the infrastructure they require is inordinately expensive.

It was only months ago that the NCAA agreed to treat its athletes better, give them more money and more personal options, but in the face of genuine danger, the Big Ten — and ACC, Big 12, SEC, et. al. — traded on the zeal and loyalty of its football players in an effort to maintain the status quo.

Not convinced? Why were all other fall sports postponed to after the New Year?

When announcing a nine-game, conference-only schedule on Sept. 19, the Big Ten boasted a “ground-breaking” approach to player safety that included “stringent medical protocols” and a “data-driven approach (to) making decisions about practice/competition.” Unless someone is willing to acknowledge that playing football would absolutely result in some sick players and staff, and therefore was a foolish decision, it’s impossible to conclude that those protocols worked.

It’s also difficult to argue that these infections aren’t spreading in the community because, unlike the NBA and NHL — which successfully resumed and ended their 2019-20 seasons this summer — college football teams are not in a bubble.

On Sept. 19. Minnesota recorded 914 new cases of coronavirus; on Monday it was 5,794. Not coincidentally, the Gophers announced Monday their program had 47 positive COVID-19 tests (21 players, 26 staff members) between Nov. 19 and Nov. 28 and, as a result, have extended a “pause” on team activity and canceled Saturday’s game against No. 17 Northwestern.

Michigan declined to reveal how many of its players are suspected of being COVID-positive, which was Minnesota’s policy until it got completely out of hand. Last week, the Gophers (2-3) canceled their game against then-No. 10 Wisconsin, one of 105 FBS games canceled nationwide this season because of COVID-19 outbreaks inside programs through last weekend.

The Big Ten has had cancellations in all but its opening week. Last week, No. 4 Ohio State, the conference’s highest-ranked and only undefeated team, canceled its game at Illinois, raising the possibility of the conference championship being played without its best team because the Buckeyes (4-0) have to play their last two scheduled games to be eligible under conference rules.

Minnesota, meanwhile — the state, not the team — is in the second week of new COVID regulations likely to stretch into the Christmas holiday. They did not apply to college or pro sports, and here we are. But those bloated athletics departments have fewer dollars to make up.

Hope it was worth it.