CHICAGO — For a while there, it looked as if Big Ten football would produce only one score this fall: 11-3.
As in, 11 schools voted to postpone fall sports and three (Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa) dissented.
But after weeks of criticism and cajoling from the likes of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Iowa football parents, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and President Donald Trump, the Big Ten crossed the 1-yard line — as Trump alluded to in a tweet.
The conference announced its restart Wednesday, declaring a unanimous vote to start playing Oct. 23-24 with a slate of at least eight games in nine weeks and a conference title game Dec. 19.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said all teams also will have an “opportunity” to play a ninth game, with potential matchups between the No. 2 team in the West versus the No. 2 in the East, No. 3 versus 3, 4 vs. 4, etc.
The accelerated schedule accommodates Ohio State’s desire to compete for a College Football Playoff berth and the wishes of TV executives who want to broadcast games of national significance.
“The priority has been health and safety, and it sounds like the questions that the presidents needed to be answered were answered,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Tuesday. “I’m excited for our guys to have a safe opportunity to play the game they love.”
The conference’s statement says the Big Ten has “adopted significant medical protocols including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced, data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition.”
“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” said Dr. Jim Borchers the head team physician at Ohio State and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee. “The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities.”
Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said he voted to postpone in August because based on reports from the conference’s medical advisers, “there was virtually no chance we could do it safely.”
He then quoted Nobel laureate economist Paul Samuelson, who said: “When events change, I change my mind.”
Schapiro voted yes Tuesday night, he said, because those same medical advisers were unanimous that the conference could play safely: “For me it wasn’t about political pressure, money or lawsuits.”
The conference announced that daily antigen testing of athletes, coaches and on-field staff will begin by Sept. 30. Positive results confirmed by PCR testing will require players to sit out for 21 days.
In addition, the league will use testing data provided by each school to make decisions about games and practices. As determined by both team and population positivity rates, schools will be placed in different categories.
A team rate greater than 5% and population rate greater than 7.5%, for example, would require a stoppage of games and practices for a minimum of seven days.
The Big Ten said it will provide updates on winter sports and other fall sports “shortly.”
The NCAA has moved fall championships, including soccer, volleyball and field hockey, to the spring.
This being the Big Ten, though, the rollout was clumsy.
Nebraska President Ted Carter was caught on a hot mic before a Tuesday morning news conference, saying: “We’re getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight.”
That came after Minnesota football provided this tease on Twitter: “When was the last time #Gophers started a football season in October? #TuesdayTrivia.”
The choices were 1932, 1933, 1934 or 1935.
A tweet from Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney reflected the angst players have felt since the summer as they dealt with all the uncertainties regarding school and football.
“Everyone only thinking about football,” his tweet read. “The rumors y’all keep putting out is destroying our mental health. Just let them announce it please. If you care about players in the B10 just wait for the answer.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the news of the approval of an eight-game schedule.
Nearly 24 hours later, the Big Ten put out a release in advance of its Wednesday video news conference.
Many expected a vote to come Sunday after presidents and chancellors heard plans regarding new COVID-19 testing kits that would eliminate the need for contact tracing. If teams can test players each morning and receive rapid results, those who test positive can be isolated and quarantined.
Presidents and chancellors also received updates on myocarditis that alleviated some — or enough — of their concerns.
Of course many were swayed — and possibly horrified — by the sight of games such as Duke-Notre Dame and Louisiana-Iowa State. If it was safe to play in South Bend, Ind., why not in West Lafayette? If football was allowed in Ames why not Iowa City?
Similarly, Ohio State players and fans wondered why the Buckeyes could not play — while Pop Warner, high school, the University of Cincinnati, the Browns and the Bengals could.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren might have believed he was setting the national tone when he announced Aug. 11 that the conference was postponing football. But his arguments during an interview with the Big Ten Network’s Dave Revsine were unconvincing, and only the Pac-12 accompanied him among the Power Five.
The ACC, SEC played on, though more than a dozen games have been canceled or postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now Big Ten teams get to do the same.
But they’ll do it without many of the conference’s top players — unless those stars have not signed with an agent and wish to stay eligible.
The most prominent announced opt-outs: Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Purdue receiver/returner Rondale Moore, Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, Illinois running back Ra’Von Bonner, Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson, Michigan State defensive end Jacub Panasiuk, Michigan tackle Jalen Mayfield Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis and Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade, whose father, Randy, organized a “peaceful show of force” outside Big Ten headquarters Aug. 18.
Another issue is that some campuses are closed because of COVID spikes. Wisconsin last week announced a two-week shutdown of football workouts, and Michigan State has asked its students to self-quarantine. Maryland athletes are working out again after a pause since Sept. 3.
Games will be played on campus, according to Yahoo Sports, and only family members will be allowed to attend games at the outset.
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