Big Ten Football Back October 24
Yet another twist in an ongoing saga.
The Big Ten conference has been all over the map in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 9, it announced a conference-only schedule. A month later, it canceled the Fall season, hinting that it might attempt to play in the Spring. Now, it has done a 180, announcing that it will begin play in five weeks.
ESPN‘s Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich (“Big Ten football to resume weekend of Oct. 24“):
The Big Ten will kick off its football season the weekend of Oct. 24 after the league’s presidents and chancellors unanimously voted to resume competition, citing daily testing capabilities and a stronger confidence in the latest medical information, the conference announced Wednesday morning.
Each team will attempt play eight games in eight weeks, leaving no wiggle room during the coronavirus pandemic before the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 19. That date will also feature an extra cross-division game for each school, with seeded teams in each division squaring off.
The Big Ten would complete its season before the Dec. 20 Selection Day for the College Football Playoff. Fans are not expected at Big Ten games, which will be held on campus throughout the season.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said the schedule will be released later this week.
In a separate piece (“Big Ten football is back: What you need to know“), Rittenburg and Dinich explain what it all means:
What was the most important factor in the Big Ten voting to play?
The medical information and resources around COVID-19 improved significantly, especially the availability of rapid testing programs. Big Ten teams had several outbreaks during the summer, and contact tracing had been a significant obstacle without rapid testing in place. Many wondered how schools such as Rutgers, Northwestern, Illinois and Maryland would ever get around their state restrictions to practice in pads and eventually play. The emergence of several reliable rapid-testing options eased concerns about contact tracing, and increased confidence about having minimal interruptions during the regular season, which can’t afford too many bumps if the Big Ten wants to be part of the College Football Playoff.
What happened in the meetings and how was the vote decided?
The conversations began in earnest Saturday, with a medical presentation to a steering committee comprised of eight presidents and chancellors. That group served as a buffer, and was impressed enough that it called a full board meeting with all 14 presidents and chancellors Sunday.
The marathon meeting Sunday, which included a three-part presentation from each of the Big Ten’s return to competition task force subcommittees, was again focused on the updated medical information, as the league had cited medical reasons for its initial postponement. The medical subcommittee presented at least four new rapid-testing options and how the developments will ease some of the challenges around contact tracing. Presidents and chancellors also heard about the potential football schedule and how it will work with the Big Ten’s television agreement. A start date during the weekend of Oct. 17 was discussed before deciding on the weekend of Oct. 24.
Could some Big Ten teams still not play this fall?
All 14 Big Ten teams will attempt to play this fall. The developments around rapid testing have eased concerns of schools in areas with more restrictions around contact and gatherings. Wisconsin last week announced a two-week pause for all football activities, but the break is set to end next week, and athletic director Barry Alvarez and coach Paul Chryst think the team needs only three additional weeks to be ready for competition. Maryland, which paused activities Sept. 3, resumed practices in football late last week.
During a news conference Monday, Wisconsin chancellor Rebecca Blank said all of the schools were going to “move together.”
“We’re all going to play or not if we possibly can,” she said. “This isn’t going to be a school-by-school thing.”
Could the Big Ten be ready in time for the College Football Playoff?
With a late October start date, the Big Ten can still finish its season and crown a champion in time to be considered for a semifinal spot, but it has to be approved by the playoff’s management committee. All 10 of the FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick would determine whether the Big Ten can rejoin the CFP. ACC commissioner John Swofford, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby will carry the most weight in the room, as they will have navigated their leagues through longer schedules. It would be difficult for them to say no, but they also probably won’t be thrilled with the Big Ten playing a shortened season.
What does this mean for the Pac-12?
The Pac-12 remains on a later timeline to potentially kick off its fall season, mainly because of local regulations in California (four teams) and Oregon (two teams). Half the conference still has not been cleared by public health officials to resume contact practices, let alone games. The league’s presidents and chancellors wouldn’t consider a vote to return until that status changes.
The league already has an agreement for rapid testing with Quidel Corporation, and hopes to have equipment in place by the end of the month. Sources say a mid-November start is likely the earliest the Pac-12 could get on the field, presuming the local regulation hurdles are cleared.
I was incredibly skeptical that we could—much less should—play college football this year. Given that so many colleges and universities have either chosen to go entirely remote for classes this semester or tried unsuccessfully to return to normal, it seemed absurd that we would try to field sports teams.
And yet here we are. The Atlantic Coast Conference resumed games two weeks ago, with mixed success. Most notably, Virginia Tech has had to postpone both of its games. The Southeastern Conference kicks off on September 26, with my Alabama Crimson Tide playing at the University of Missouri Tigers.
If the sport is to be played, I’m happy that the Big Ten is back in the mix. It would have been somewhat hollow to crown a national champion in a season where two of the Power 5 conferences were sitting out.
Still, there’s something surreal about the whole thing. The Alabama campus, in particular, has been a COVID hotspot and drawn national attention for the failure of students to practice social distancing and wear masks. But, given the combination of the politicization of the virus and the tendency of college-age folks to crave social interaction and flout the rules, that was a foreseeable outcome.
In terms of football alone, it’s also rather strange that the conferences will play very different schedules. It’s hard enough for the selection committee to rank teams from different conferences whose schedules overlap very little. Add in the fact that some schools are only going to play eight or nine games while others play ten or eleven. Obviously, it’s much easier to go undefeated playing fewer games.