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Volume 26 No. 227
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Big Ten's Warren Admits Fall Sports In Jeopardy Following CFB Changes

Big Ten officials hope the conference-only decision will eliminate some long-distance travel
Photo: getty images
Big Ten officials hope the conference-only decision will eliminate some long-distance travel
Photo: getty images
Big Ten officials hope the conference-only decision will eliminate some long-distance travel
Photo: getty images

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren on Thursday night “acknowledged the possibility that sports, including college football, are not played this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic,” according to Orion Sang of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. Warren during an appearance on Big Ten Network said, “One thing we have to realize that this is not a fait accompli that we’re gonna have sports in the fall. We may not have sports in the fall. We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten." That comes after the Big Ten earlier on Thursday announced plans for a conference-only football schedule, becoming the “first major Power 5 conference to eliminate all non-conference competition this fall.” The Big Ten made its decision “after a detailed collaborative process that included communication on a regular basis with university chancellors and presidents, athletic directors and head football coaches.” Among the deciding factors were maintaining "’the flexibility of scheduling all the operations,’ which would not have been possible if teams played non-conference opponents,” as well as “mitigating the risk from travel to non-conference competitions” (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 7/10).

MAKING BEST MOVE POSSIBLE: Warren said that the move to conference-only games is the "'next logical step' in hopes of having a college football season." Warren: “The biggest thing is that this affords us an opportunity to be nimble and agile in an uncertain time. It all ties back to the health and safety of our student-athletes. It’s easy for us to manage operations, the schedule and logistics when we’re focused on the Big Ten conference.” He added that there “wasn’t a seminal vote or moment that spawned the decision, but rather weeks of conversations with presidents, athletic directors and coaches that eventually led” to the move. YAHOO SPORTS’ Pete Thamel noted the decision is the “biggest domino so far in the college football landscape, as it will radically change how the season could look in the fall assuming the season gets played.” While it is “unknown if other leagues will follow suit,” a similar conversation about conference-only schedules “is being held in every league office” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/9).

CREATING SOME FLEXIBILITY: ESPN.com’s Dinich & Schlabach cited sources as saying that if there is a college football season this fall, Big Ten presidents and ADs “preferred the conference-only model, which will eliminate some long-distance travel and help ensure teams are being tested for the coronavirus universally” (ESPN.com, 7/9). In Columbus, Joey Kaufman reports the move toward a conference-only schedule “stemmed from a desire to give the conference greater flexibility.” Ohio State AD Gene Smith said, “The flexibility, I can’t say that enough, is significant.” Kaufman notes fewer games played “over a wider range of dates could allow teams to more easily reschedule games in the case of possible coronavirus outbreaks.” Smith: “If we’re able to play in September and something occurs in late September or early October, we can hit the pause button and provide a window of opportunity for student-athletes to not be put at risk. We can move games. If we’re scheduled to play somewhere and an outbreak occurs in that environment and school has to shut down, we can change games” (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 7/10). 

KEEPING THINGS SELF-CONTAINED: BTN's Gerry Dinardo noted the Big Ten's move gives the league "a chance to plan because now we’re self-contained.” DiNardo: “We don't need anyone else's permission, we don't have to worry about contracts with other conferences. It gives us a chance to make a decision that all 14 schools will buy into that nobody else has to buy into." He added it also gives Warren and Big Ten presidents "total control over a schedule” ("BTN Live," BTN, 7/9). In San Diego, Kirk Kenney notes by “shaving games off the front end of the schedule, it buys perhaps a month to get through this surge in COVID cases” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 7/10).

SCHEDULE DETAILS TO COME: SI.com’s Pat Forde cited sources as saying that one option under consideration is a “ten-game slate, one more than they schedule annually, with division games potentially moved to the front of the schedule.” It is possible that one opponent “would be added to existing schedules, or perhaps multiple matchups would be recast based on geography.” Warren said that his office will “dig into scheduling over the course of the next week, in consultation with schools and television partners” (SI.com, 7/9). YAHOO SPORTS’ Dan Wetzel noted going to a nine-game schedule and “simplifying things is the best route.” There will be some “great non-conference games that will be lost, including longtime rivalries,” but that is “better than giving up the whole season.” Wetzel: “Killing the non-conference made sense, especially since the majority of those games are just money grabs” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/9).

REALITY CHECK FOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL: In Detroit, Bob Wojnowski writes the college football season is “teetering, perhaps a couple more blows from collapsing under the weight of logic, science and health statistics” (DETROIT NEWS, 7/10). USA TODAY’s Christine Brennan writes, “The decisions are coming quickly now. They are jarring and they are ominous, and they tell the same story, over and over again: the 2020 college football season is in big trouble” (USA TODAY, 7/10). In Indianapolis, Zach Osterman writes under the header, "Big Ten's Fall Sports Decision Painful -- And Probably Our Only Chance" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/10). In Tampa, Matt Baker writes, “This is college football’s Hail Mary for the fall: A shortened season with regional travel.” Baker: “Don’t get your hopes up, even for an altered, abbreviated autumn season” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 7/10). Meanwhile, ESPN's Paul Finebaum said, “There was no reason he had to announce it yesterday, other than trying to follow the Ivy League. It’s a really bad sign for college football. It’s a sign that nobody is on the same page in spite of what they are trying to tell us” (“Get Up,” ESPN, 7/10). 

NOT OPTIMISTIC AT ALL: In Pittsburgh, Tim Benz writes, “If they can play college football at all this year, I’ll be stunned.” Benz: “Pro sports will be hard enough to get off the ground. With all of these moving parts, dense coronavirus numbers and unpaid college kids acting as covid-19 guinea pigs, color me pessimistic” (TRIBLIVE.com, 7/10). In Phoenix, Kent Somers writes, “We would really miss it should it get canceled. But with COVID-19 still raging through much of the country, college football should be the least of our concerns” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 7/10).

BAD OMEN FOR ALL COLLEGE SPORTS? The AP’s John Zenor notes there has been “deep unease that the pandemic will deal a blow to fall sports after wiping out hundreds of games, including March Madness, this past spring.” The bad news “picked up this week as the Ivy League canceled all fall sports and Stanford announced it was cutting 11 varsity sports,” but the Big Ten’s decision “is the biggest yet.” That move “didn't wash away fears the entire fall season could be in jeopardy." Ohio State's Smith said, “I am really concerned, that is the question of the day. I was cautiously optimistic. I'm not even there now” (AP, 7/10). In Minneapolis, Marcus Fuller writes this was the “first logical step toward avoiding cancellation,” though “no fall sports might still be what awaits” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 7/10). In Indianapolis, Gregg Doyel writes, “Whole thing feels familiar, doesn’t it? Feels like the spring, when first we lost fans in attendance for the conference and NCAA tournament games, then we lost the conference and NCAA tournaments themselves. Then the NBA shut down. Then Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League and the NCAA spring sports schedule. It was death by a million cuts. ... Here we are again, heading in the same obvious direction” (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/10).