It appears that our long national nightmare of no Big Ten football this fall might be over. Or it may not. Truthfully, things still feel as up in the air as they have ever been.
Reports surfaced on Friday that coaches and administrators from within the conference are working on a model that could see games being played as soon as Thanksgiving weekend, but more likely in early January. The earlier end of that timeframe would allow for cleared out campuses across the conference with students heading home for holiday break until after the new year, creating a quasi-bubble situation to play in. From there, the games would reportedly be set indoors at neutral site locations across the Midwest (Ford Field, US Bank Stadium, etc.).
Given that there seems to be a bit of a breakthrough as it pertains to frequent testing that provides rapid results, it’s not hard to imagine that being a pitch that could work. But these are only discussions, and there are still many hurdles to get past.
The assumed threat here is, of course, the coronavirus itself. The powers that be continue to learn more about it with each passing day, but it is still a novel virus with long-term effects that are still being studied. COVID-19 is the dark cloud hovering over all aspects of life these days, so instead of stewing too much on that, let us just agree that this particular plot thread is not going away anytime soon.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way, we need to clear the air on some misinformation regarding Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren’s role in the decision to postpone. The long and short of it is that it was not solely his decision and that the conference’s actions were spearheaded by the university presidents at each of the 14 member institutions. Whether a vote was taken or not, there was a majority opinion that superseded the rest and an understand was reached that they would move forward the way they did.
A reminder, via a source: Big Ten presidents were the ones who made the decision to postpone the season. They have made clear it is a final decision. Coaches were not tasked with restarting the season at their own discretion.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) August 28, 2020
To make a long story short, protesting families and angry football coaches are not going to be able to will a fall season into existence. They can come up with any model they choose to as a collective and make their pitch, but the presidents will ultimately have final say over all of this.
With students returning to campuses across the country, the focus of these administrations is going to be containing the spread of the virus and keeping everyone safe. There are going to be infections and there are going to be positive tests. Until they determine they can move forward safely, it seems unlikely that the presidents are open to a change of heart on this decision. And it really is not even about changing their hearts as much as it is having the data that supports the slowing of the spread and that the protocols in place can work.
I think that the Thanksgiving weekend model could work and might be the best-case scenario if you are looking to head into 2021 with the fall season mostly unaffected. Nothing is perfect at this point, but it is what it is. It is unfortunate that the Power Five has seemingly splintered the way that it has because there are still scenarios in play where everyone is playing and on the same page to hold a season that crowns a worthy and legitimate champion.
Unfortunately, the plans and models being discussed right now are just that. Like when a group of kids plans a big sleepover party before even raising the subject to their parents. Mom and dad make the final decision here and in this scenario, the presidents would have to be the ones that sign off on this.
The Big Ten has handled this atrociously from the start and Warren is not absolved of that. The lack of messaging and abrupt pulling of the plug has understandably created a shitstorm that continues to grow in intensity the closer we get to other conferences playing games this fall. With that being said, players, parents and fans should be directing their fury and questions at the presidents, who put inexperienced (and potentially inept) conference leadership in a bad spot having to take the punches here.
The presidents technically do not owe anyone an explanation here. We are in a pandemic and in unprecedented times in terms of preserving in-person academics, but the optics of this are horrible. That Michigan players still have not seen or heard from Mark Schlissel is extremely unfortunate, to put it mildly. Given the program’s significance to the community, those kids and coaches probably at least deserve a 30-minute Zoom call.
It is not just Michigan, though. You would be hard-pressed to find any university president to come out and go on the record on this topic right now. And therein lies the difficulties of anything getting approved before January begins.