Kevin Warren

Big Ten will play football in fall

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Big Ten is going to give fall football a shot after all.

Less than five weeks after pushing football and other fall sports to spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the conference changed course Wednesday and said it plans to begin its season the weekend of Oct. 23-24.

Each team will play eight games in eight weeks and the conference championship game will be held Dec. 19 — if all goes well. That should give the Big Ten an opportunity to compete for the national championship.

The Big Ten said its Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously Tuesday to restart sports. The vote last month was 11-3 to postpone, with Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska voting against.

The decision to play came after sharp pressure from coaches, players, parents and even President Donald Trump, all of them pushing for a Big Ten football season. The conference is home to a number of battleground states in the November election, and Trump swifly applauded the move in a tweet.

The emergence of daily rapid-response COVID-19 testing, not available when university presidents and chancellors decided to pull the plug on the season, helped trigger a re-vote. The Big Ten said it will begin daily antigen testing of its athletes, coaches and staff on Sept. 30.

Team positivity rates and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine whether teams must halt practice or play. The earliest an athlete will be able to return to game competition would be 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.

“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, team physician for Ohio State.

The Big Ten will take a bow, but the conference has been battered for a month.

First-year Commissioner Kevin Warren was the main target, criticized for a lack of communication within the conference and not providing enough information to back the initial decision.

The Big Ten postponed Aug. 11, indicating it would try to make up the season in the spring. But there was no plan in place.

The Pac-12 followed the Big Ten in postponing, but was far more detailed in its explanation and also had more obvious hurdles to clear. Half the Pac-12 schools are still operating under statewide restrictions that make it impossible for teams to practice.

Meanwhile, as the Big Ten and Pac-12 bailed, the three other Power Five conferences forged ahead, along with three other major college football leagues. Games have started, with the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference kicking off last week. The Southeastern Conference is scheduled to start playing games Sept. 26.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten was on the sideline, with coaches struggling to explain to players why other teams could play but they could not.

“We’re excited and we can’t wait to get started,” Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons said.

In Nebraska, eight players had filed a lawsuit against the Big Ten over its decision to postpone. Glen Snodgrass, father of one of the players, Garrett Snodgrass, was teaching a class at York (Nebraska) High School when he received word of the reversal.

“This is what a lot of people have been fighting pretty hard for,” he said. “I can’t say enough about those eight boys and what they had the courage to do. They worked their entire lives to get where they are, and they just wanted to play.”

Nebraska was at the forefront in opposing the Big Ten’s original decision. The university had put out a joint statement from the school president, athletic director and coach Scott Frost expressing disappointment. Frost had also suggested Nebraska might look outside the Big Ten to play games.

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.

President Trump calls on Big Ten Conference to play fall football

Republican National Convention
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The Big Ten Conference, already in court and under pressure from players and parents over its decision to cancel fall football, is now hearing from President Donald Trump.

Trump tweeted Tuesday that he had spoken with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren about reinstating the fall season.

“Had a very productive conversation with Kevin Warren, Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, about immediately starting up Big Ten football,” the tweet said. “Would be good (great!) for everyone – Players, Fans, Country. On the one yard line!”

The Big Ten, in a statement, said a White House representative reached out to Warren to set up a phone call with Trump. The statement said Warren and Trump had a “productive conversation.”

“The Big Ten Conference and its Return To Competition Task Force, on behald of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C), are exhausting every resource to help student-athletes get back to playing the sports they love, at the appropriate time, in the safest and healthiest way possible,” the statement said.

The conference is filled with teams from battleground states that will prove critical in the upcoming election between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

The Big Ten announced Aug. 11 it would move its football season to the spring semester because of health risks associated with the pandemic. The Pac-12 followed suit, joining the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West. Other leagues are playing shortened seasons.

Warren has been under pressure for three weeks as the outcry against the decision has grown louder. Last week, a group of Nebraska players filed a lawsuit seeking a reversal of the decision, and Gov. Pete Ricketts has been a vocal proponent of the Cornhuskers playing fall football.

“Before the Big Ten’s decision, we were already working with the university and public health officials on plans to play football this fall,” said Ricketts, a Republican. “We would love for the Big Ten to give schools the flexibility to make decisions that are right for them.”

The Associated Press and other outlets reported last week that Big Ten officials are working on multiple plans for staging a football season – including one that would have the league kicking off during the Thanksgiving weekend. Soon after, Trump brought up the state of college football.

“No, I want Big Ten, and all other football, back – NOW,” Trump tweeted then. “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! ”

Trump downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 for college-aged football players.

“These are big, strong guys. They’ll be just fine,” Trump said Friday. “Big Ten. Get with it. Open up your season, Big Ten.”

Trump, before boarding Air Force One on Tuesday, again framed the debate over player and fan safety as a political one. He said “the biggest headwind we have is that you have Democrats who don’t want to see it happen.”

Trump said he spoke with Warren and “we had a very good conversation, very productive, and maybe we’ll be very nicely surprised.”