Report: Big Ten presidents to reconsider fall football

Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Big Ten football might be making a comeback.

Big Ten university presidents will meet Sunday to hear a presentation about playing a fall football season after all — maybe as soon as mid-October — amid pressure to kick off from parents, players, coaches and even the president.

A person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press the Big Ten’s Return to Competition Task Force met Saturday. The medical subcommittee, comprised of athletic directors, doctors and athletic training staffers, made a presentation to a subgroup of eight presidents and chancellors. The presentation included improvements in the availability of rapid, daily COVID-19 testing.

The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Big Ten was not making its efforts to return to play public, said it was a “positive meeting” that led to the scheduling of another presentation to the full group of 14 presidents and chancellors Sunday.

The presentation will cover medical, television and scheduling plans for football, the person said. A vote to start a season is not guaranteed on Sunday but could happen in the coming days. The news was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Another person involved in the Big Ten’s return to play planning told AP that allowing schools to opt out of playing if the presidents do decide to give the go-ahead to a fall season has been discussed among the task force.

If things move quickly, the Big Ten could start an eight-game season in about a month, and still compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. While some Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference teams began their seasons Saturday, and more will next week, the Southeastern Conference is not scheduled to kick off until Sept. 26.

The Big Ten postponed its fall season Aug. 11 because of concerns about playing through the coronavirus pandemic, with presidents and chancellors voting 11-3 in favor. Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska voted against postponement.

The conference and first-year Commissioner Kevin Warren have faced push back from inside and out ever since. Parents of players have demonstrated on campuses and in front of the Big Ten offices outside Chicago. A group of Nebraska players filed a lawsuit against the conference to overturn the decision not to play.

President Donald Trump called Warren to encourage the conference to reconsider. The Republican president and his Democratic opponents have tried to blame each other for college football going dormant across much of the Midwest, which includes several battleground states considered key in the November election.

Within the conference, Ohio State coach Ryan Day released a statement Thursday asking the Big Ten to provide more clarity about its decision to postpone. Penn State coach James Franklin made similar comments in a radio interview.

Day’s Buckeyes were No. 2 in the AP preseason Top 25. Franklin’s Nittany Lions were No. 7.

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK
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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK
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IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.