The Big Ten logo is seen before the start of an NCAA college football game between Iowa and Penn State Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)AP
A decision to potentially reinstate the fall football season amid the coronavirus pandemic isn’t moving as swiftly as some anticipated or predicted. We move into Wednesday without an official word from the conference if games will be played this fall.
In a development fitting for the public mess the situation has been for more than a month, Nebraska president Ted Carter was caught on a hot mic Tuesday morning hinting at what appeared to be an upcoming announcement.
“We’re getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight,” Carter said to Bob Hinson, director of the National Strategic Research Institute, prior to a press conference, according to KETV in Omaha, Neb. Carter also said “it’s a good move in the right direction.”
Carter later told KLKN-TV in Lincoln his comments were taken “a little out of context,” in an attempt to backtrack what wasn’t meant for public consumption.
It’s worth noting Carter isn’t Nebraska’s representative on the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors. That spot belongs to Nebraska chancellor Ronnie Green.
Shortly after Carter’s comments, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported a proposal was approved to play football this fall, saying the latest proposal would mean teams playing eight games in nine weeks – starting as early as Oct. 17 – with the Big Ten championship on Dec. 19. The College Football Playoff selection day is scheduled for Dec. 20.
There was another notable administrator who chimed in Tuesday – this time very publicly – on the Big Ten’s ongoing saga. Wisconsin chancellor Rebecca Blank was asked about the conference indefinitely postponing the season while testifying about name, image and likeness to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
“There were several main reasons for that,” Blank said via videoconference. “One was that we were uncertain that we could do the level of testing and contact tracing that we needed to keep athletes safe. Secondly, there was this growing evidence about heart-related myocarditis and that evidence was uncertain and it wasn’t clear what it meant and we wanted to know more. There were a few other more minor reasons. Until we have answers to that, we will keep our season postponed. Once we have answers to that and to some of those issues and things that we have ways to deal with them effectively, we will try to plan a delayed season.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) asked Blank if reports the Big Ten is going to vote this week to reinstate football were true. She declined to provide a clear answer but put the potential for a reversal on developments in the last month.
“I’m not going to speak to that,” Blank said. “You’re going to have to let the Big Ten make that announcement when and if such a decision is made. When such a decision happens, your first question should be ‘what’s changed?’ Hopefully we will have answers to exactly the issues that I just raised.”
The availability of rapid COVID-19 testing could be a significant step in leading the Big Ten back on the field this fall. The Pac-12, which scrapped fall sports the same day as the Big Ten, on Sept. 3 announced an agreement with Quidel Corporation to administer daily testing for all athletes in close-contact sports, with results delivered in 15 minutes. The Omaha World-Herald on Thursday reported Nebraska reached an agreement with Vivature, which has partnered with Quidel, and will have a machine to conduct rapid testing on campus by the end of this week.
The Big Ten hasn’t announced a similar partnership but testing is obviously a key element in the potential to resuming play. The conference’s presidents and chancellors reportedly met Sunday, following a Saturday meeting of the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force’s medical subcommittee with the conference’s steering committee of presidents and chancellors.
“That’s where the testing becomes important, that’s where the rapid results from testing becomes important, that’s where the kind of test you’re using and the sensitivity and specificity of that test becomes important,” Michigan State president Samuel Stanley, who is also an infectious disease expert, said Aug. 19 about the risk level associated with football. “And that’s where the frequency of testing becomes important as well.”
Stanley made those comments a little more than a week after the Big Ten scrapped the season and there have been plenty of developments since. The decision was met with backlash from players, parents, coaches and administrators. Stanley and Minnesota president Joan Gabel indicated an actual vote wasn’t really taken and eight Nebraska football players filed a lawsuit, questioning the vote and seeking the reinstatement of the season.
In response to the lawsuit, the Big Ten said the vote was 11-3 in favor of postponing the season. It didn’t disclose how each school voted but Nebraska and Ohio State indicated it was clear they wanted to move forward with football and Iowa was reportedly the other dissenter.
Big Ten bylaws require a 60 percent vote, meaning the conference needs at least nine presidents and chancellors to approve a decision. Kaine questioned Blank on Tuesday about a potential vote on resuming fall football and if it would be unanimous.
“I can’t say what the vote is going to look like,” Blank said. “Decisions within the Big Ten are largely majority-based decisions but I’ll be honest, we almost always decide everything by consensus. We very rarely take votes.”
In addition to speculation about if the Big Ten will play this fall, there have been questions about whether all schools will participate if a season is reinstated. Dan Patrick on Monday reported multiple teams, including Michigan and Michigan State, wouldn’t play this fall. Blank contradicted that report the same day during a teleconference.
“I will say we’re all going to move together in the Big Ten,” Blank said Monday. “We’re all going to play or not, if we possibly can. This isn’t going to be a school-by-school thing.”
While the Big Ten and Pac-12 have been sidelined, the remaining three Power Five conferences – the SEC, ACC and Big 12 – push forward, along with the AAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA, even though there have been more than a dozen games postponed. With games played and scheduled elsewhere across the country, the anger about the Big Ten’s decision has intensified and featured pushback from politicians, including President Donald Trump.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh joined his players and their parents for a Sept. 5 protest on campus, seeking the reinstatement of the season. Penn State coach James Franklin and Ohio State coach Ryan Day both criticized the Big Ten’s lack of communication last week. Day did so while issuing a statement saying the Big Ten medical staff created “a safe pathway toward returning to play in mid-October,” and questioned why other schools are playing and they aren’t.
That question continues to linger, even as COVID-19 has killed more than 931,000 people worldwide, including more than 195,000 in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. And even as various reports indicate a decision to reinstate Big Ten football this fall is close or even imminent, nothing has been made official and the wait continues.
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