Big Ten football is back. BIG TEN FOOTBALL IS BACK.
After a month of agony following its poorly rolled out decision to postpone the fall sports season on August 11, the conference announced Wednesday morning it will begin play the weekend of October 23-24.
The plan, per sources, is to play eight games in eight weeks, with the Big Ten Championship scheduled for December 19. That gives B1G teams (read: Ohio State) the chance to be eligible for the College Football Playoff, whose field is selected December 20.
It’s simply incredible for the conference to do a 180 and play football this fall after commissioner Kevin Warren wrote in an August 19 letter that the decision wouldn’t be revisited. Warren, and to a lesser extent university presidents and chancellors, has taken a ton of heat for this PR debacle, especially for the conference’s poor messaging and lack of rationale in support of its initial decision.
A lawsuit filed by eight Nebraska football players, a parent protest at Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois, and several campus protests marked the lack of transparency on the conference’s part. The parents, led by Randy Wade, father of Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade, demanded some semblance of a justification for the decision paralleling the Pac-12’s postponement.
The Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) voted 11-3 last month to shut down all fall sports because of health and safety concerns relating to the coronavirus pandemic, with Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State dissenting. The vote tally came out only because of a lawsuit filed by eight Nebraska players which forced the conference to provide details about the postponement decision. A vote needs 60 percent, or nine members, to pass, and this re-vote was unanimous.
Perhaps fittingly, anticipation came in the form of University of Nebraska president Ted Carter getting caught on a hot mic remarking, “We’re getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight” on Tuesday.
This season will be known as the Big Ten season brought to you by rapid testing. The conference released outlined the updated COVID protocols, which is its justification of playing this fall after 36 days ago citing health and safety concerns and unknowns.
Every player, coach and staffer will take an antigen test daily, which is the primary reason the presidents felt comfortable in bringing the season back. Having frequent and rapid results will greatly mitigate the contact tracing problem schools ran into as it will allow for quick isolation of positive cases.
Each school is implementing a Chief Infection Officer, who will oversee all data collection and reporting to the conference. The B1G also established strict thresholds for continuing practice and competition. There are specific positivity rates, based on both total tests administered and total population at risk, that will force teams to alter their operations or suspend things for a week. The positivity rates will be based on rolling, seven-day averages.
The daily antigen testing will begin September 30.
Any athlete who tests positive for COVID-19 will have a confirmation test using gold-standard PCR, and he will not be eligible to return to game competition within 21 days of the positive test. In addition, the presidents were briefed on myocarditis by Dr. James Borchers, Ohio State head team physician and co-chair of the return to play task force medical subcommittee. He used a recent small study of post-COVID heart issues in Ohio State athletes to talk about how the conference can protect its players instead of using it as a roadblock.
“All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI,” the Big Ten said in its release. “Following cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes.”
Of course, as encouraging as this news is, the Big Ten hasn’t left itself a ton of wiggle room. Its previous schedule was hailed for its flexibility, while this one looks like just the opposite. Despite the testing advances which should greatly help to stop any outbreaks, the conference will attempt to play eight games in eight weeks.
So, the Big Ten (1) doesn't have a built-in bye week, (2) has a 21-day suspension of play for players testing positive and (3) has a shutdown threshold of 5% positivity rate on a team.— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) September 16, 2020
Hang on to your butts.
These protocols are important, and they’re the only reason any Big Ten football is happening in the first place. But the announcement provides no guarantee of a successful/completed season amid a decidedly chaotic time on many college campuses. Teams have been allowed to practice up to 12 hours a week amid the stoppage, but Wisconsin and Penn State athletic activities are currently paused to positive tests.
UW-Madison’s campus is on near lockdown until Sept 24 with a recent outbreak of cases, but athletic director Barry Alvarez has said the team will be ready to go by mid-October. Other Big Ten institutions have been the center of outbreaks of COVID-19 according to The New York Times, with upwards of 1,000 cases at the University of Illinois, University of Iowa, and Ohio State University. The Midwest is currently the country’s virus hotspot region, with just four states in the conference’s footprint recording a rolling, seven-day average positivity rate under five percent.
Scheduling and other details have yet to be released, but league sources indicated games will be played on campuses with no fans other than player families, though that could change. The conference previously left attendance up to individual schools based on local and state health guidelines.
Per B1G-sources, as of now, games will be played on campus with no fans (other than families). That situation could change. Rapid testing should make 8 games in 8 weeks doable. Title game 12/19.— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) September 16, 2020
A decision on the remainder of fall sports as well as winter sports that begin in the fall including men’s and women’s basketball, swimming and diving and wresting will be announced shortly, according to the release.
After the whirlwind that has been the past month of Big Ten football, Northwestern will take the field in a little over a month. As the Wildcats await their eight-game revised schedule, for the first time in a while one thing’s for certain — there will be Big Ten football this fall.