Big Ten Reverses August Decision, Will Officially Play Fall Football
The Big Ten this morning "made it official" that it will play a football season this fall, with an Oct. 23-24 start date that will "allow for both a conference title game and a potential spot" in the CFP, according to Pete Thamel of YAHOO SPORTS. Sources said that multiple programs around the league "met with their players in the past few days and outlined a plan on how they’d practice and be ready to play by the October dates being reported in the media." What has changed in the five weeks since the conference first postponed the season is a "confluence of medical advancements, fan blowback, political pressure and the successful start of the college football season elsewhere." Sources said that the presence of daily rapid testing, which has "led to a successful start in the NFL, will be used in the Big Ten and will be a key part of the league’s messaging why it’s moving forward" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/16).
STRINGENT TESTING RULES: In Minneapolis, Megan Ryan notes daily testing of athletes "will begin Sept. 30." If an athlete tests positive, the "soonest they can return" to game competition is 21 days (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/16). In Newark, Brian Fonseca notes all COVID-19 positive student-athletes will "need to go through comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI." After the cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must "receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university." In addition to the medical protocols approved, the 14 Big Ten institutions will "establish a cardiac registry in an effort to examine the effects on COVID-19 positive student-athletes and attempt to answer many of the unknowns regarding the cardiac manifestations in COVID-19 positive elite athletes using the data gathered" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/16).
THE SCHEDULE-MAKERS: Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, who was on the conference's return-to-play task force, noted Big Ten teams will play eight games, plus a season ending “Champions Week.” The “Champions Week” games will include the Big Ten title game between the top-ranked teams from both divisions, as well as matchups for the rest of the teams in the conference. In this setup, the No. 2 ranked West Division team would play No. 2 in the East Division, followed by the two No. 3 seeds, and down through the bottom of the conference. Alvarez said the Big Ten’s schedule would be released later this week ("BTN Live," Big Ten Network, 9/16). Meanwhile, Big Ten AD Sandy Barbour this morning said that the conference would not allow fans at any games this season, though it would try to accommodate players' family members (THE DAILY).
HEALTH, SAFETY THE BIGGEST KEY: Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren was asked what changed from August until now, and said, "We always wanted to make sure that we put the health and safety of our student-athletes at the forefront of all our decisions. This is also a situation that we need to adapt. The world that we live in today, whether it’s sports or any other area, we need to be able to adapt. ... We needed to show some flexibility. Once we reached that point that we felt that we were comfortable to proceed forward and able to create that environment, we were able to go forward" ("BTN Live," Big Ten Network, 9/16). THE ATHLETIC's Nicole Auerbach writes school presidents "would not sign off on a new plan without feeling comfortable about it from that standpoint." Access to rapid antigen testing is a "game-changer, because it will allow for daily testing for Big Ten athletes." The Big Ten "can also learn" from the other conferences that have been playing for weeks (THEATHLETIC.com, 9/16). ESPN's Heather Dinich said, "There was political and public pressure, but the 14 presidents and chancellors said they would not be swayed by that. The bigger topic I think we will hear about today is going to be the changes in the medical information" ("Get Up," ESPN, 9/16).
MORE TO IT THAN SAFETY: USA TODAY's Dan Wolken writes the totality of what went into the Big Ten's change of course is "more complicated" than health matters. Even before the league announced that it had postponed the fall season and would instead try to play in the winter or early spring, there was "significant push back from coaches and administrators at some schools, primarily Iowa and Nebraska." Warren was "criticized by fans and parents of players for the public rollout of the decision and failure to provide clear answers." Even President Trump, looking for votes in "key swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan during the middle of his re-election campaign, offered to help and spoke with Warren on the phone" (USA TODAY, 9/16).
BIG TEN'S IMAGE TAKES A HIT: In Indiana, Mike Carmin writes the Big Ten's reversal caps a month where the conference was "viewed as dysfunctional, a national embarrassment and lacked the togetherness that’s always been considered a strength of the league" (Lafayette JOURNAL & COURIER, 9/16). In Chicago, Teddy Greenstein writes the Big Ten's rollout of its return to play was "incredibly clumsy," noting Nebraska President Ted Carter alluding to the return on a hot mic yesterday. Also, the Big Ten will now be able to join the ACC, Big 12 and SEC in playing games, but will do it without "many of the league's top players," some of whom declared for the NFL Draft due to the conference's original decision (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/16).
THE TRUMP ANGLE: YAHOO SPORTS' Thamel notes the Big Ten's decision "brings the return of the sport as a presidential election talking point for Donald Trump." For the past month, Trump has "pushed and prodded the Big Ten to change its stance on playing football this fall." After this morning's announcement, Trump tweeted in part, "It is my great honor to have helped!!!" Even with "improper syntax, Trump's point is clear." It was "easy to see that the return of the Big Ten is going to become a political talking point again" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/16).
HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE CONFERENCE:
- Detroit Free Press: "Big Ten Football Reinstated."
- Detroit News: "Big Ten Calls An Audible."
- Chicago Sun-Times: "Big Ten Reverses Course."
- Washington Post: "Big Ten Football Reverses Decision."
- Des Moines Register: "After 5 Bumbling Weeks, Big Ten Football Is Back."
- Centre Daily Times: "Big Ten Changes Course, Will Play Fall Football After All."
- Omaha World-Herald: "Nebraska Football Is Back."