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Big Ten Presidents taking their time despite all the noise

Until the conference grants membership to Sir Yacht University, an October 10 start is highly unlikely.

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President Morton Schapiro Josh Rosenblat/InsideNU

Last week, President Trump sent Twitter into flames with the following message:

Chaos, of course, ensued, but while many proceeded cautiously after reading Trump’s message, radio host Dan Patrick added fuel to the fire by reporting that Big Ten presidents were considering a proposal to start the football season October 10.

For a few hours, the latest bombshell of Big Ten football starting this fall seemed to be gaining steam. But Yahoo’s Pete Thamel soon released a column contextualizing Trump’s latest intervention and its potential impact, or really lack thereof, on a season.

There hasn’t been much by way of public progress on the conference moving toward a fall start date other than one of the floated plans that would start the season Thanksgiving weekend. The Pac-12 bought itself a shot in the arm last week when it announced a partnership with healthcare diagnostics company Quidel to test its players daily with rapid tests. Commissioner Larry Scott said he’s hopeful the partnership will allow his league to get back on the field before January, adding he wants to align schedules with the Big Ten.

With Power 5 schools kicking off this weekend and very little being divulged by the Big Ten within the past week, an October 10 start date appears unlikely for several reasons. In order for the conference to re-vote on the fall season, it would need updated reports and protocols from the medical advisory boards that make decision makers comfortable enough to start a season only two months after the original start date.

Either way, Big Ten university presidents have been thrust into quite the predicament. Initially, conflicting reports circulated about whether there was a vote and how university presidents voted. An affidavit filed by the conference and its Council of Presidents and Chancellors chairman Morton Schapiro (also NU president) as part of the lawsuit filed against them from eight Nebraska players detailed that 11 of 14 presidents voted to postpone, well over the 60 percent threshold needed to make the decision.

It has since been reported that the three schools who voted against postponement were Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio State. If the B1G’s messaging hadn’t been so bungled and had been the slightest bit transparent in their reasoning, most of this pressure to play this fall may not exist. The Lancaster County, Nebraska, judge handling the aforementioned lawsuit ordered the league to produce more information and documents about the vote and decision-making process by September 12.

The conference will need a total of nine university presidents, six of which need to override their initial decision, to reverse course and play this fall. The conference said its rationale for postponement was inadequate testing and contact tracing, and uncertain long-term COVID health effects for student-athletes and the broader communities at their universities.

Many of these presidents and their boards — like Rutgers, Michigan State and Northwestern — have taken action such as sending students home or refusing the return of some or all to campus. Wisconsin, which welcomed students back to campus, recently told students to limit all non-essential interactions for two weeks amid a spike in cases.

That Big Ten presidents and chancellors haven’t overreacted to their initial overreaction is good, since they should be careful to not make the mistake they made the first time around and act too quickly without letting things play out a little bit. Several games have already been postponed. While it’s expected that no season will go all according to plan, it’s important to remember there’s simply no guarantee this works.

The only notable advancement is the role rapid testing could play if Big Ten schools can acquire the necessary resources. President Trump offered Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren a portion of the White House’s Abbott BinaxNOW rapid test stockpile in an effort to get the conference to reinstate fall football. USA Today’s Dan Wolken reported the conference was looking to draft “a series of requests for the White House, many of which are yet to be fully formed, that would encompass everything from rapid testing to help with a contact tracing program to medical equipment to resources that would help sports besides football.”

Having those tests enables schools to test student-athletes on a daily basis and instantly find out their results. Big Ten presidents would unquestionably feel more comfortable from a health and safety perspective with rapid testing available, but it still may not be enough to move the needle.

Yet Trump’s move is undeniably a political gimmick. Two months away from the 2020 presidential election, Big Ten country contains a plethora swing states — Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — which he desperately hopes to appeal to by helping football return. The White House never reached out to the Pac-12 or Mountain West to offer resource support.

His proposition still turned up the heat on an already boiling situation. Local politicians have joined the call for the Big Ten to play this fall, sensing the outrage from fans and the political gain to be earned if there are games this season.

September 12 is an important day as it is the deadline for the conference to submit more vote-related details and more leagues kick off their seasons. It will mark just over a month since the decision to postpone the season, and with University of Nebraska President Ted Carter saying the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force is putting together plans to be voted on by presidents and chancellors in the near future, we could soon get a sense of where any season is going.