The Big Ten Conference is not going to play football this fall and is about the only thing that is known about the future of football-playing plans in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Conference leadership has stated that they are looking into the potential and logistics of playing a season in the spring, but there are certainly hurdles to clear if that is to take place.
Some of those include the staffing that would be required from a support standpoint, if fans would be allowed at games, and more. There is no guarantee that the country has the pandemic under control by then. There is also no way you can play a full season in the spring and then come back and play another season in the fall. If player safety is paramount, it cannot happen this way.
There have been people suggesting that the Big Ten could play shortened campaigns in both the spring and fall, but would they want to risk two diluted seasons in a year?
There might be ways to have something that resembles a competitive and beneficial season in the spring. If there is not, there still might be a way to put some extra work in for the teams so they do not go an entire year without football.
With that said, here are three rough draft pitches for how Big Ten football in the spring might be able to work.
A shortened spring season
As it was stated before, this is probably the most optimistic scenario for them because it does not seem like they would pull the trigger on this without fans being able to attend and being able to collect on gate revenues. Let us naively assume they can pull that off and that the tide of the pandemic has turned in a positive direction. I would also like to go on the record and state I do not see this being possible.
But, let’s explore it anyways.
The Big Ten likely is not silly enough here to think that they are going to play a full 12 or even 10-game season. Every decision that was made about fall sports was stated to be made with player safety in mind and if we are planning a full season later on in the year, this is not possible. However, if the Pac-12 is on board, there is a chance that they might still be able to put something fun together here.
With all of this in mind, this is what the pitch is for a spring season that could check most of the boxes.
- Conditioning and workouts would begin in January after players return from the holiday break
- Spring camp begins in early February
- Big Ten teams play a six-game season inside the East and West divisions from March 6 to April 10
- Division winners will meet in Indianapolis on April 17 for a conference title game
- There will be a bye on the week of April 24 to account for finals and travel for the conference champion
- Conference champs from Big Ten and Pac 12 will meet on May 1 to play in the Rose Bowl to end the spring season
- If other teams want to get one more game in, they could be matched in the standings with their Pac-12 counterpart for one more exhibition game
It’s not ideal and there likely would be opt-outs to prepare for the NFL Draft, which may or may not be moved back. The NFL is not interested in moving the draft back, but the rules in place give them the ability to go as far back as June 2 if they chose to do so.
If a spring season is to even remotely reflect what we might have seen in the fall, this is might be the most realistic way to do it. There would be a ton of other details to work out, but this could be the skeleton from which to build everything else out.
Spring football practices with exhibition games
Perhaps not everyone would be on board with a spring season and simply want to put the work in the preparation for the fall campaign. The Big Ten might be able to hybrid that a bit by letting teams run a spring football program like they have been — albeit probably a bit extended — and play a few exhibition games in a 6-to-8 week span.
This would allow the teams to do a few weeks of installation, having a traditional spring Maize vs. Blue scrimmage, and then go through a few simulated game weeks. There might not be a ton of interest in playing Michigan State and Ohio State in April given that the staff might want to hide what it’s working on. However, it does not seem like that much of a stretch to be able to do something along these lines. It could be as simple as scrimmaging two teams from the conference that are not on your schedule in the fall.
It’s not a full season, but it’s something.
Practices with a bubbled 7-on-7 spring break tournament
If we are still operating under strict guidelines and protocols come next spring, this might be a direction to consider. This would be a somewhat normal spring football slate with about five weeks of practices and split-squad scrimmages, but would then see teams pack up during spring break and operate within a bubble to do a 7-on-7 tournament within the Big Ten schools. Given that it would only be skill players making the trip, the traveling party would be cut down and without pads, there likely would not need to be as much equipment or support staff making the trip, as well.
There might not ever be a ton of traction for an idea like this to get off the ground, especially with TV ratings and gate revenues being the impetus for spring competition to take place at all. However, it might be a way to give some of these players a slice of competitive action they have missed out on and a showcase for players to put something on film.
At the end of the day, none of this might be realistic, and even if it was, it might not feel right compared to the pageantry and tradition of a fall season. But if spring football is being seriously considered, there are some options there should the conference choose to explore them.