It was weird watching the first major weekend of college football featuring Power 5 teams. Weird because of the fan-less or sparsely populated stadiums. Weird because most people on the sidelines wore masks. Weird because some teams really looked rusty and out of sync.
But most of all, watching college football was weird because there was no Big Ten and no sign it would soon play.
Despite the unusual and disappointing feeling watching other leagues on the gridiron, there’s more optimism than ever that we could see the Big Ten play this fall. By the end of last week, reports held that the conference’s medical advisory board would present a medical update and return to play thresholds to a group of university presidents and chancellors.
#Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez chairs the scheduling group, which includes four coaches (Paul Chryst, Ryan Day, Pat Fitzgerald and James Franklin) and five other ADs. #Northwestern AD Jim Phillips chairs the TV group, which includes six other ADs.— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) September 13, 2020
The scheduling and television subcommittees from the return-to-competition task force also made pitches to the steering committee, which decided it had heard enough positive news to have the medical group present to all 14 presidents and chancellors.
What has changed medically? In short: the availability of rapid testing. Seen in August, when the conference postponed the season, as a futuristic development, now it’s more of a reality. Per reports, having a daily, rapid testing deal in place is a major factor for presidents who need to feel comfortable with reversing their stance on playing a season. Having frequent, reliable testing would almost certainly aid concerns over the inability to contact trace, something Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman cited as a concern in the wake of the postponement.
As for myocarditis, the inflammation of the heart sometimes seen after a viral infection, there are Big Ten doctors like Ohio State head team physician Dr. Jim Borchers, who chairs the medical subcommittee with Penn State AD Sandy Barbour, that have made convincing enough arguments about mitigating the risk of the condition through precautions like mandatory pre-return-to-play MRIs for all players who test positive for coronavirus.
According to these reports, the conference is looking at mid-to-late October for start dates, with the 17th and 24th looking like favored options. An Oct. 17 start would leave the conference nine weeks to play eight games, and the Big Ten Championship would be held on Dec. 19, the day before the College Football Playoff field is currently set to be selected.
However, nothing is guaranteed, and teams will need some sort of preseason to prepare for the season. Wisconsin can’t practice until Sept. 24 due to campus regulations after a spike in cases. Maryland also suspended all athletic activities.
Of course, Northwestern is an easy name to float as one that would vote against returning to play. But with head coach Pat Fitzgerald on the scheduling group, athletic director Jim Phillips chairing the TV group and one of three ADs on the return to competition task force, and university president Morton Schapiro the chair of both the steering committees and council of presidents and chancellors, it would seem unlikely Schapiro would vote no.
A vote, which is said to likely occur sometime between Sunday and Tuesday, would need nine votes, or 60 percent of presidents, to okay the plan. If things go well, we could see Big Ten football next month. Chalk the craziness up to 2020.