Maybe it’s because of Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren’s short time in command. Maybe it’s because of Justin Fields’ #WeWantToPlay petition that accumulated over 300,000 signatures. Maybe it’s because of parents’ demands or lawsuits the conference was facing. Or maybe it’s because of the pressure to play from the President of the United States.
No matter the reason, the Big Ten ultimately chose to reinstate fall football this week and found its footing after the month of chaos that followed its potentially premature decision in August to postpone fall sports.
With the ACC and Big 12 both hosting a full slate of games Saturday and the SEC set to start in a matter of weeks, many looked to the Big Ten for some news or change regarding the season. The initial postponement came August 11 when the conference had no substantial plan of action. It was unsure how to navigate their way through the challenges of the pandemic and thought pulling the plug altogether was their best bet.
Despite the initial cancellation, teams were still allowed to practice in a limited fashion and workout. As a result of that, the Big Ten was able to schedule opening kickoff with only a month’s notice, unlike the Pac-12, which is now in talks of a potential November return
The conference waited for enough evidence that play was possible to come back. In the month between the first and second votes, the conference pledged player safety as a top priority, which in a global pandemic was reassuring.
In that month of down time, the conference built a concrete plan that still is able to keep player safety as the number one goal. Players and staff receive more tests than anyone else and are provided a frequent cardiac MRIs, echocardiograms and ECGs.
And ultimately, this concrete plan was worth the wait. It’s better not to rush into a season of such high danger and instead generate a plan of action that is responsible. Even with its return, the Big Ten made it clear it’s willing to suspend the operation if any concerns arise. If a team has over a five percent positivity rate and 7.5 percent rate counting staff, the entire squad is shut down from practice and games for a minimum of seven days.
They aren’t winging this. They aren’t seeing where the wind takes them. They clearly want to do this the right way and be as wary as possible.
It’s encouraging to see a group as powerful and with as large of egos as a Power 5 football conference able to reconvene and backpedal. Sure, it looks a little foolish for doubling down on its initial decision when it said it would not be revisited, but a later season is better than no season. The Big Ten recognized the criticism they will receive for indecisiveness will amount to less than if they were to further postpone the season (plus it’s hard to argue with profits).
The biggest plus in all this is that the conference finally is giving the players the choice to play. Those who feel the risk is not worth playing can opt out, as we’ve already seen with top prospects such as Rashawn Slater and others. For those who are willing to take the risk, such as Ohio State star quarterback Justin Fields, they will finally get their long awaited season.
Seeing the Big Ten able to reverse a decision in which it had invested so much gives hope that the new regime under Warren will be willing to listen to more than just themselves during a very interesting time for college sports, higher education and the world. With the conference’s first step, it may have the best shot out of any conference at completing a season.