Photo Credit: Eric Francis

League Presidents Vote in Favor of Football: Big Ten’s Back, Alright!

September 21, 2020

Oh my God, they’re back again.

The Big Ten Conference announced Wednesday morning its decision to reinstate the fall football season. The league is expected to begin play the weekend of Oct. 23 and 24.

The decision, according to a release from the Big Ten, “was based on information presented by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force, a working group that was established by the COP/C and Commissioner Kevin Warren to ensure a collaborative and transparent process,” and it was made unanimously.

As for what the season will look like, the initial report did not include any information. According to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, the league expects to play eight games in eight weeks with the title game scheduled for Dec. 19. The games would be played on campuses with no fans (other than families) and is subject to change.

Under the previously announced Big Ten schedule, the league title game would have taken place Dec. 5, with the weekends of Dec. 12 and 19 open as flex dates for teams that had games postponed.

Theoretically, the Big Ten would be able to participate in a College Football Playoff, which will select semifinal participants on Dec. 20 and hold semifinal games at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl this season on Jan. 1, 2021.

Sunday afternoon, the COP/C heard a presentation from the medical, football and television subcommittees of the Big Ten’s Return to Competition task force, according to reporting from The Athletic. On Saturday, the task force met with the league’s steering committee—a subgroup of the COP/C made up of just eight presidents and chancellors, one of which is UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green—after that subgroup was briefed by the conference’s medical subcommittee.

Multiple reports suggested the Big Ten’s leadership group might have taken a vote Sunday night, but their meeting ended without any public announcement of a decision.

Tuesday morning, University of Nebraska system president Ted Carter revealed via a hot mic that the league would be going public with its plan to return to the field Tuesday evening.

And here we are.

Ohio State lead team physician Dr. Jim Borchers has been a central figure in pushing to reinstate football in the Big Ten, according to reporting from ESPN. On Saturday, Borchers presented the steering committee with at least four rapid response antigen tests that could allow Big Ten teams to test daily for the coronavirus, a development that would aid in contact tracing.

One such antigen test has already been acquired by Nebraska. The Omaha World-Herald reported this week the Huskers had, through a partnership with Quidel—the same corporation that recently partnered with the Pac-12 to provide rapid-response testing—acquired the equipment to set up a rapid-response, point-of-care COVID-19 testing center inside Memorial Stadium. The antigen tests would provide same-day response times and the ability for Nebraska to not only test its football team on gamedays but its opponent.

“It’s light-years different than it was five weeks ago,” an anonymous source told ESPN over the weekend.

The Big Ten will have extensive protocols in place for its return to play, which includes percent-positive thresholds that would halt competition. Daily testing will begin by Sept. 30. An athlete who tests positive will not be able to return to competition for 21 days. A 5% positivity rate within a team will mandate halting practice and competition for a minimum of seven days.

Tuesday’s announcement figures to put an end to what has been more than a month of pressure on the league from every direction, wild speculation, and all kinds of drama.

There has been in-fighting over whether there was an actual vote between presidents and athletic directors, so much so that a lawsuit from Nebraska football players in a US District Court in Lancaster County has pushed to shed light on the actual decision-making processes the league used. The Big Ten has also come under fire from its most high-profile coaches, with Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Penn State’s James Franklin, on more than one occasion, going public with calls on the league to return to the field.

The inbox at the league office in Chicago has also been stuffed with letters from angered parents at nearly every school in the conference. First-year league commissioner Kevin Warren even fielded a phone call from the President of the United States.

All of it was enough to sway members of the COP/C to reverse course. The original vote to postpone the season was 11-3, with Nebraska, Iowa, and Ohio State voting to play.

Nebraska feels it can be ready to play soon, despite missed spring practices and a choppy summer and fall.

The Huskers practiced multiple times last week, though not in pads. Under NCAA rules, teams have been allowed 12 hours of practice each week, with five of those hours to be spent on the field.

“I think if I took a straw poll of our team and asked them when they could play, give us about a week and we’re ready to play football,” Husker head coach Scott Frost said on Aug. 10.

The ACC and Big 12 began their seasons this past weekend, as did other non-Power Five leagues pushing forward, though not without some scheduling snafus. An SMU-TCU game was postponed Friday after it was revealed a cluster of Horned Frogs tested positive for the coronavirus. In August, with cases spiking on campus in Raleigh, North Carolina, NC State-Virginia Tech was moved from Saturday, Sept. 12, to Sept. 26 to give the Wolfpack more time to prepare for their season.

Tulsa-Oklahoma State, Louisiana Tech-Baylor, Marshall-East Carolina, FIU-UCF, Virginia-Virginia Tech, BYU-Army, and Temple-Navy have all already been postponed from dates in mid- to late-September.

The SEC will open its season this upcoming week.

The Big Ten will be late to the party, but at least it’s coming. For a time it looked like the work done around the conference this offseason would fall by the wayside. Nebraska, in particular, was feeling optimistic about both its protocols developed to keep its student-athletes safe while competing and about the progress it had made toward on-the-field results.

The Huskers might have another leg up on other Big Ten programs, too. On Sept. 9, Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez announced the Badgers’ football team would be pausing workouts for two weeks after the university’s president announced a campus-wide shutdown amid spiking cases. That same day, Penn State announced it had paused team activities indefinitely for several programs after 48 student-athletes tested positive, but declined to specify which programs. Iowa paused its workouts on Aug. 31 but has since resumed activities.

While it is reporting to necessary health and safety officials, Nebraska athletics is not sharing testing information with the public. The Huskers have not said whether they’ve had to pause workouts at any point since athletes returned to campus in June.

“We are very pleased with the decision by the Big Ten to play football this fall after carefully considering the extensive work by the Medical Committee,” Moos and Chancellor Ronnie Green said in a statement. “The safety protocols established by the conference are the most stringent in the country, and will help protect our student-athletes, staff and coaches. At Nebraska, we have worked hard since last spring to ensure the safety of our Husker family and are confident of the steps we’ve taken. We look forward to working with the Big Ten protocols and will be ready to play on October 24.

“This is a big day for our student-athletes, coaches, our city, our state and all of Husker Nation. We look forward to seeing Coach Frost and our Huskers take the field – Go Big Red!”

 

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