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Perspectives of Big Ten commissioner and players highlight challenges of upcoming football season

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It’s cool when schedules are unveiled, but we balance the fun with reality and look at the hurdles ahead.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Today is an exciting day, a fun one for Michigan fans with the Big Ten releasing schedules for every team in the conference.

However, with COVID-19 at the forefront of any discussion in regards to a potential season, this schedule is tentative and the reality of a season happening is still dicey. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren expressed there’s still much uncertainty, and Big Ten Players collectively want more clarity and guarantees with conference protocols.

“Even though we have a schedule and we have student-athletes working out on our campuses, it is not a guarantee that we will have a football season or that we’ll have fall sports,” Warren said. “Releasing a schedule does not mean that we’re just pushing forward and ignoring all the medical protocols and procedures. We’ve made it very clear that, if and when we get to the point where it’s not in the best interest of our student-athletes and our Big Ten community, from a health and safety standpoint, to have sports in the fall — regardless of what the sport is — we won’t do it. We’re being very methodical in our thought process.”

Warren noted that the Big Ten needs to make decisions as if each athlete was a member of their own family, putting their health and safety first. While #BigTenUnited, a collective group of players in the Big Ten, appreciate the Big Ten’s plan for the upcoming season, they still feel their proposal “falls short”. In short, there’s still lots of stuff to sort out on the protocol front between the Big Ten and its players before the student-athletes are comfortable playing games. For example, the Big Ten’s plan calls for a minimum of two COVID-19 tests per week, the players are requesting three tests per week (one of which will be within 24 hours of competition). Some of the requests players have will be easy for the Big Ten to approve, others will take a little more time to work on such as cost-of-living stipends, coverage for out-of-pocket Covid expenses, and liability waivers. View the B1G Unity Proposal here.

The good news is Warren seems receptive to input from players and welcomes feedback. Warren had a long Zoom call on Monday with Big Ten players about the new protocols for fall sports. Two athletes from each of the 14 Big Ten schools took part in the call. “I didn’t want to have a theoretical or philosophical conversation with them; I wanted to go through the actual policies and procedures to get feedback,” Warren told the Athletic. “Were the medical questions that were asked able to be answered 100 percent, to a T? No. But that’s the climate we’re in.”

In the Big Ten’s press release they noted “protocols will be updated regularly as new information becomes available and that feedback from student-athletes will be “continuously evaluated”.

“I’m evaluating this literally on a daily basis,” Warren said. “The moment that we collectively feel that is not in the best interest to have our student-athletes participating in intercollegiate athletics this fall semester, then we will not go forward. … We’ll just have to take it one day at a time, and I believe we’ll know what the right thing is to do.”

With 28 players and staff from Rutgers recently testing COVID-19 positive, there’s bound to be skepticism as to whether a season will actually take place. But for every Rutgers there are more teams like Maryland, who have yielded zero positive cases the past two batches of tests. Maybe the protocols the players are hoping to implement will lead to case totals like Rutgers becoming an outlier and not the norm.

The Big Ten players are also calling on the NCAA to take the lead and implement universal protocols that will extend to each and every conference. “We have started a dialogue in good faith with the Big Ten and hope that the NCAA will follow suit,” #BigTenUnited said. “Given the short time frame, and with our season at stake, this conversation must happen now.” Now is right.

The NCAA is in its own way and their top brass haven’t shown enough guidance or leadership, which is leading to conferences like the Big Ten trying to implement their own protocols and in turn players are demanding more from their conferences and the NCAA. It’s August 5 and players want clarity soon. While it’s always nice to sift through a new football schedule and talk about the matchups, the x’s and o’s, the reality is there are still a lot more hurdles to overcome before any game is played this fall.