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Report: Big Ten working on multiple options for football

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Big Ten coaches, athletic directors and medical personnel are working on multiple plans for staging a football season – including one that would have the league kicking off as soon as Thanksgiving weekend.

The conference is in the early stages of a complicated process that also involves broadcast partners and possible neutral site venues, a person with direct knowledge of the conference’s discussions told The Associated Press.

The person spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because the Big Ten was not making public its efforts to have a football season that starts in either late fall or winter. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported the Big Ten was considering a possible Thanksgiving start to the season.

The Big Ten announced on Aug. 11 it was postponing its fall football season because of concerns about playing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pac-12 soon followed suit, but six other major college football conferences, including the powerhouse Southeastern Conference, are still forging ahead toward a season that will start in September.

The Big Ten and first-year commissioner Kevin Warren have faced push back and criticism ever since, including a lawsuit filed by eight Nebraska players who want the decision overturned.

The Big Ten’s decision and the subsequent backlash have trickled into politics in this election year, with Democrats and Republicans pointing fingers over who is responsible for taking away college football in the Midwest.

“No, I want Big Ten, and all other football, back – NOW,” President Donald Trump tweeted. “The Dems don’t want football back, for political reasons, but are trying to blame me and the Republicans. Another LIE, but this is what we are up against! ”

Any plan will need the approval of university presidents and chancellors, and the Big Ten will only play if certain benchmarks related to the coronavirus – such as transmission rates, testing capacity and availability, and testing accuracy – are met in each of the 11 states that are home to the league’s 14 schools.

“If they are met, that’s when they’ll get back,” the person told AP.

Several coaches, including Ohio State’s Ryan Day, have already said the sooner the Big Ten can start a delayed season the better. Day has endorsed starting in early January and that idea has been on the table practically since the decision to postpone came down, the person said.

Starting in late fall was an idea some coaches laid out earlier this week, the person said.

One option includes playing games at domed stadiums across the Midwest, including in Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Detroit, another person with knowledge of the discussions told AP on condition of anonymity.

The person said using neutral sites could help broadcast partners televise the games and help avoid potential complications of playing through winter weather.

A two pronged-plan, laying out a framework for how a season can be staged and what benchmarks need to be met for it to be safe enough to play during the pandemic, could be rolled out by the Big Ten within two weeks, the first person said.

Wait a minute: Stars Wade, Davis decide to return to Ohio St

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Two of Ohio State’s biggest stars, cornerback Shaun Wade and guard Wyatt Davis, are opting back in for the 2020 football season.

The preseason All-Americans had decided to leave school to prepare for the NFL draft when it looked as if there would be no football season for the Big Ten. Both are expected to be first-round picks.

They changed their minds after the conference announced on Wednesday that teams would play an nine-game season starting Oct. 23-24.

The news is huge for Ohio State, which behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields has the talent to again compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Wade, who had opted out on Monday, announced on ESPN on Thursday that he would return.

“It was a long day yesterday being with family and friends and taking that time to talk to them and really making the right decision for myself, but I’m going to come back and be a Buckeye and really go strive for this national championship,” Wade said.

“Back in January, I didn’t go to the draft and my goal was to come back, be a captain, get my degree,” he said. “They then canceled football, now it’s back, so since it’s back we got a chance to win a national championship. That’s been my goal since day one.”

Wade said he had an agent but did not sign a contract.

Wade last play resulted in his ejection for targeting in the playoff semifinal loss to Clemson in January.

“I can’t go out like that,” he said.

Davis had announced his decision on Twitter Wednesday.

“I want Buckeye Nation to know that I want to play this season for Ohio State and I am working now to make that a reality,” he said.

Davis will anchor an offensive line that includes center Josh Myers and left tackle Thayer Munford, both also NFL prospects.

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Move toward fall football ramps up in Pac-12, Mountain West

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The Pac-12 university presidents and chancellors will meet Friday and be presented options for staging a fall football season, but Commissioner Larry Scott says a vote by the CEO Group is not expected.

“(Friday) is a chance to get everyone caught up on what’s been a very dynamic and rapidly changing series of events over the last 24 to 48 hours,” Scott told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We’ll obviously have to decide soon, but I’m not necessarily expecting a decision (Friday).”

A day after the Big Ten changed course from its decision to postpone fall sports because of the pandemic and set a late October start for football, the Pac-12 appeared headed toward a similar move.

The Mountain West is trying to do the same and there even is some movement in the Mid-American Conference toward reconsidering a fall season.

“The board has asked for a plan,” Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said. That conference’s university presidents next meeting is next week.

Meanwhile, early Thursday, it was announced that another FBS game could not be played because of COVID-19 issues with one of the teams. Charlotte at No. 12 North Carolina scheduled for Saturday had to be canceled because the 49ers did not have enough available offensive linemen.

The Pac-12’s medical concerns about playing through the pandemic have been eased by the conference earlier this month securing rapid, daily COVID-19 testing for all its schools. This week brought more good news. State and local authorities in California and Oregon signaled they would be willing to ease COVID-19-related restrictions that have made it nearly impossible for six Pac-12 teams to prepare for a football season.

There is still work to be done with health officials, but things are moving quickly enough that the Pac-12 is hopeful it could start a season that allows its teams to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The four playoff teams are scheduled to be selected Dec. 20.

“We feel we’ve got a responsibility to our student-athletes and our programs to explore that possibility. So that’s what we’re doing,” Scott said.

The Big Ten’s plan is to start an eight-games-in-eight-weeks regular season the weekend of Oct. 24, with a championship game on Dec. 19.

The San Jose Mercury News reported, citing unidentified sources, that the Pac-12’s athletic directors were targeting Oct. 31 to start football season. Scott declined to confirm the report or go into any details about potential models for a season.

The Pac-12 presidents’ meeting was originally scheduled to address basketball. The NCAA set a Nov. 25 opening date for the season. Scott said for the same reasons there is hope for a fall football season there is optimism the Pac-12 will start basketball season at the same time as the rest of the country.

Thompson, whose league includes three California schools, said he has been in frequent contact with Scott.

The lifting of restrictions in California has been hurdle for the Mountain West to clear, too, but the conference is still trying to catch-up in another pivotal area.

“The real trigger on this is the rapid-result testing,” Thompson told AP. “And that’s the key, if we can get that. We’re talking to a number of manufacturers and providers. That has to be done really before any decisions can concretely be made.”

Thompson said the goal in the Mountain West is also to have a season in place that could wrap up on Dec. 19 and allow its teams to be selected for the playoff and lucrative New Year’s Six bowls.

“You come up with a model and then you move it backwards and forwards depending on where you stand with some of the other issues, particularly testing,” Thompson said.

Another immediate concern for both the Pac-12 and Mountain West is wildfires raging in California and Oregon that have led to unsafe air quality in some areas. The Seattle Mariners had a series this weekend with the San Diego Padres moved to Southern California.

The Mid-American Conference, which was the first FBS league to postpone its fall sports season, indicated earlier in the week it was still focused on a winter/spring season. But some MAC players have followed the lead of their peers in Power Five conferences by pushing for a fall season on social media.

Kent State coach Sean Lewis also called for the conference to revisit the decision to punt on a fall season.

Charlotte-North Carolina became the 14th FBS game postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 since Aug. 26. It would have been the first meeting between the schools.

In its release, Charlotte said there had been three positive cases among football players discovered through regular league-required testing during the past two weeks. Those individuals had been placed in isolation with medical care, while others impacted through contact tracing were told to quarantine for 14 days.

Charlotte didn’t specify exactly how many players were affected and said its home opener with Georgia State on Sept. 26 is still on.

The disruptions are not a deterrent to the other conferences and the Pac-12 in particular does not look as if it is headed toward days of will-they-or-won’t-they speculation that gripped the Big Ten.

Scott would not make predictions about what his bosses will do but the Pac-12 is not operating in secrecy.

“We’ve tried to be very deliberate and very transparent,” Scott said. “The major concerns and obstacles have now been cleared.