Ryan Day

Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Report: Big Ten presidents to reconsider fall football

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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.

Report: Big Ten working on multiple options for football

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

Big Ten’s Warren, under fire, elaborates on virus concerns

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
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Facing backlash from fans, players’ parents and others, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren sought to elaborate on the decision last week to postpone football season until spring.

The first-year commissioner has been criticized for a lack of transparency in how the decision to call off football this fall was made.

“We thoroughly understand and deeply value what sports mean to our student-athletes, their families, our coaches and our fans,” Warren wrote Wednesday in what was called an “Open Letter to the Big Ten Community.”

“The vote by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) was overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited. The decision was thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts.”

The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced Aug. 11 there would be no football in their conferences. That was four days after the Big Ten released a revised 10-game schedule for each team.

The Pac-12 rolled out its decision with comment from its medical experts. Warren did not make the Big Ten medical advisers available and spoke in generalities about the reasons.

Players and coaches expressed disappointment in how the announcement was made, and the parents of players from several schools wrote letters to Warren demanding further explanation in t he wake of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference proceeding with plans to play this fall.

In his letter Wednesday, Warren listed primary factors that led to the decision:

– Transmission rates continue to rise at an alarming rate with little indication from medical experts that campuses, communities and the country could gain control of the spread of the virus prior to the start of competition.

“As our teams were ramping up for more intense practices, many of our medical staffs did not think the interventions we had planned would be adequate to decrease the potential spread even with very regular testing,” he wrote. “As the general student body comes back to campus, spread to student-athletes could reintroduce infection into our athletics community.”

– There is too much unknown about the virus, recovery from infection, and longer-term effects. In particular, Warren mentioned the risk of cardiomyopathy, a condition that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood and can lead to heart failure. “The uncertain risk was unacceptable at this time,” he wrote.

– Concerns about contact tracing, including the inability to social distance in contact sports pursuant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He wrote that risk mitigation processes such as physical distancing, face coverings and proper hygiene could not be fully implemented in contact sports.

“We understand the disappointment and questions surrounding the timing of our decision to postpone fall sports, especially in light of releasing a football schedule only six days prior to that decision,” Warren wrote. “From the beginning, we consistently communicated our commitment to cautiously proceed one day at a time with the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes at the center of our decision-making process.

“That is why we took simultaneous paths in releasing the football schedule, while also diligently monitoring the spread of the virus, testing, and medical concerns as student-athletes were transitioning to full-contact practice.”

Warren said the start of full-contact practices and games would make contact tracing more difficult and that there could be frequent and significant disruptions to the season.

“Accurate and widely available rapid testing may help mitigate those concerns, but access to accurate tests is currently limited,” he wrote.

Warren noted that the decision to postpone the season would have negative financial implications on the schools.

“We understand the passion of the many student-athletes and their families who were disappointed by the decision,” Warren wrote, “but also know there are many who have a great deal of concern and anxiety regarding the pandemic.”