Forty-two days after releasing a fall schedule, 36 days after postponing that fall season, 28 days after stating a fall season “will not be revisited,” the Big Ten has officially decided to play a fall season 2020.
If you’re confused, grab a mic. That’s essentially what Nebraska’s president did Tuesday in clumsily breaking the news heard ’round the Rust Belt. Ted Carter — not knowing he was on a hot mic at a press conference — casually mentioned the news to the director of the National Strategic Research Institute.
There was nothing strategic or researched about Carter misspeaking. He unknowingly teased, cruelly, a restart as the process officially lingered longer than the election of the last pope.
All it needed was a puff of white smoke. Except that would have meant something else was burning to the ground in the Big Ten.
The conference finally made it official on Wednesday. A nation of Bucknuts and their peers rejoiced.
On one level, this was peak Big Ten. It couldn’t even get on the same page for one of the biggest announcements in conference history. On another … well, there is no other level. Man, this has been a colossal mess. Now, let’s play.
Yeah, it’s time to celebrate. We’re going to get a final season of Justin Fields. Players who have opted out are at least talking about changing their minds. A sort-of season is rounding into shape now that four of the Power Five conferences are playing.
In the end, the Big Ten cited safer, more frequent COVID-19 testing. That’s admirable.
How the conference got there is not. Mostly because there isn’t a certainty to it.
We know the beginning — Oct. 23 for nine straight weekends. We don’t know how it will end.
College football‘s success continues to hang in midair, hopefully more than 6 feet away. This continues to be a dance among the raindrops hoping not to get wet. Nothing is guaranteed.
On Tuesday, the Big Ten took on a shared responsibility in a fall season along with the SEC, Big 12 and ACC. That is a responsibility to play college football and other fall sports safely and carefully.
We enter Week 3 with 13 games already having been postponed or canceled. That includes Arkansas State, which this week canceled its game against Central Arkansas because of a massive outbreak. It played last week’s game without nine starters among couple dozen players sidelined.
Texas Tech revealed it’s had 75 COVID-19 positives since July. LSU’s Ed Orgeron mentioned in passing that “most of our players have caught it.” Wisconsin has paused football for two weeks due to COVID-19. Cases on campus at Penn State have spiked. Florida suspended baseball and lacrosse after 46 athletes combined tested positive.
That’s what we know about. More than half the FBS programs surveyed by the New York Times weren’t announcing COVID-19 positives publicly.
Within the Big Ten, Maryland and Wisconsin have paused workouts. Do you care?
Before you answer, consider a nine-game schedule satisfies the league’s conference inventory it owes Fox and ESPN. There’s going to be a wild final weekend Dec. 18-19 with all 14 teams playing — the top team from each division in the league championship game plus what amounts to six consolation games.
By playing nine games in as many weeks, there’s a student-athlete welfare issue in there somewhere. The other three Power Five conferences playing this fall have built in three off weeks to make up games.
“We believe safe protocol will allow us to complete this season,” said Ohio State team doctor James Borchers said. “We know that’s a significant number of games, but that’s been done in the past. It will be incumbent on [us] that health and safety is at the forefront of what we’re doing. … If we need to adjust, we’ll adjust.”
To those seeking the red meat of more football, yeah, it’s time to chow down. But be advised there is now that added responsibility.
That’s part of the reason those Big Ten presidents took so long. Being overcautious isn’t a sin. Being irresponsible can cost lives.
There is no right and wrong in this saga. Not yet. For now, the league just found a safer rationalization.
On Aug. 11, things were different when the Big Ten postponed a fall season six days after it released a fall schedule. The reconsideration allows the Big Ten to chase the College Football Playoff.
It also allows Nebraska’s Scott Frost and Ohio State’s Ryan Day to step down from their part-time jobs as crisis managers. They can yell during the COVID-19 pandemic, but can they coach with the sensitivity and feel it’s going to take to get through this?
To say playing is the “right” decision cannot be determined at this time. It’s safer than it was a month ago, but a final conclusion is for history, books, documentaries and science to decide.
While the biggest reason for the Big Ten’s turnaround is the availability rapid, daily, point-of-care COVID-19 testing that first adopted by the Pac-12, commissioner Larry Scott’s league still has state regulation issues that won’t allow half his teams in California and Oregon to conduct padded practices.
Meanwhile, the White House claimed President Donald Trump’s Sept. 1 call to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren was “probably the most pivotal phone in the Big Ten this year.”
“He was honored and humbled to be able to make a difference,” a senior White House administrator said.
A Big Ten university president flatly denied that to NBC News.
“President Trump had nothing to do with our decision and did not impact the deliberations,” that school president told NBC’s Peter Alexander. “In fact, when his name came up, it was a negative because no one wanted this to be political.”
Medically speaking, the coaches, parents and players shouldn’t have much a voice about whether to play. It’s not up to them. We should have learned through this pandemic that playing football is a privilege, not a right.
The same reason the Big Ten postponed is why it reconsidered a fall season: science. Daily tests with rapid, point-of-care testing makes it possible. Everything else is just talking points.
And now, a celebration.
“Are we better today than we were yesterday? Are we better today than we were 42 days ago?” Warren asked. “The answer is, unequivocally, yes.”