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Vital questions as Big Ten heads toward postponing football season

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

The difficult decision has been made, and now it’s time to start thinking about what’s next.

Sources told The News on Monday the Big Ten has opted to cancel its fall football season, meaning the work for how to move forward begins in earnest. While a conference spokesperson said no official vote has taken place among the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors, sources said an announcement is expected by Tuesday.

It appears the annual Michigan-Michigan State showdown will have to wait until spring, at least.

That means no football this fall for the Michigan and Michigan State, as well as the other 12 teams in the Big Ten.

It’s a jarring decision as COVID-19 already wiped out the NCAA men’s basketball tournament last March, stopped spring football before it started and has lingered all summer, looming over the college sports landscape.

Now that the first big move apparently has been made, we try to answer some vital questions moving forward.

► Will the rest of the Power Five follow suit?

It seems as if it’s only a matter of time the Pac-12 will announce it’s calling it quits for the 2020 season while news out of the SEC, ACC and Big 12 has been sketchy. As reports began to swirl over the weekend about the Big Ten leaning toward canceling, similar reports surfaced from the Pac-12, while some framed it as the Big Ten and Pac-12 against the other Power Five conferences.

However, more reports came out on Monday that the Big 12, while still divided on the issue, could be swayed by the decisions in the Big Ten and Pac-12. Sentiment around the SEC and ACC has seemed to be to exhaust every effort to have a season with cancellation being the last resort. But considering the Mid-American Conference already has made the call not to play and UConn, an independent, also is sitting out, momentum  clearly is building for there to be no college football in the fall. There will be talk of the SEC attempting to pull some dissenting teams in for the fall, but it’s difficult to see a scenario where college football is played.

More: Players divided amid reports Big Ten football season will be shelved

More: Jim Harbaugh uses data to support claim that football should be played

Will the Big Ten try and play in the spring, and what would be the timetable?

Sources indicated to The News over the weekend that commissioner Kevin Warren preferred exploring the option of playing in the spring. Of course, that comes with its own set of potential problems, from player safety to the logistics of putting together a schedule. However, if it’s looked at purely through a financial lens — Michigan State AD Bill Beekman suggested an $80-85 million — having some sort of season is better than none at all.

If the Big Ten and other conferences in the FBS pushed to play in the spring, odds are a season likely wouldn’t start until at least mid-February until after the NFL season has been completed and could run until May or June, depending on whether teams would play a traditional 12-game schedule or a conference-only slate like the one the Big Ten had drawn up for the fall. That would leave time for bowl games and the College Football Playoff.

► What about player safety for a spring season?

Where we are as a country relative to COVID-19 will have a lot to say whether a spring season is viable, but there are safety concerns beyond that, as well. The biggest issue would be finishing one season in June and having players return to campus roughly two months later to begin preparation for the next season to be played in the fall. Pushing back the fall season by a month would only offer a small bit of relief for players who would have to endure far more time on the field than usual.

Many in the game believe it’s simply too much to ask for football players to go through that sort of schedule. “When you play 2,000 competitive reps, your body is not ready for contact in three months or two months,” former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said in July. “It’s not. I would not put those players in harm’s way."

How will this affect eligibility and early enrollees?

This is where things can get tricky, spring season or not. If there are no games, odds are current players would not lose any eligibility, creating a logjam of scholarships and players on the roster once the next recruiting class arrives. Play a spring season and what happens with the players from this year’s recruiting class that decide to enroll in January? Are they eligible to play in a spring season? If so, would scholarship limits have to be extended?

These are the questions players and coaches are asking that don’t seem to have any clear answers. It all leads to another important question …

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence could opt for the NFL Draft rather than play in a spring college season.

► What about players preparing for the NFL Draft?

If you’re Trevor Lawrence or a player similar to the Clemson quarterback, what’s your move for the spring? As a player who looks to be a surefire first-round pick, do you decide to not play the spring college season and prepare for the NFL Draft in April, or do you roll the dice and play and take your chances that you’ll still be draft eligible?

It’s a small number of players, relatively speaking, that likely would be faced with that choice, but it’s still a considerably difficult decision. Teams will be fine. With 85 players on scholarship and roughly another 20 walk-ons, there are enough players — though some teams could be forced to play without some of its top talent. Could there be a shift in the NFL offseason schedule? Perhaps, but it still doesn’t change the fact that a spring season likely would be short on some star power.

► How does this affect recruiting?

It’s not the most pressing issue in college football, but the recruiting landscape has been changed dramatically already. With many states likely not playing high school football this fall, plenty of players are making their college choices without a senior season. In fact, MSU coach Mel Tucker said last week they’re making committable offers based on a player’s junior year. Those who do commit could still sign in the early December period, but there’s a chance the traditional February period might get moved or wiped out completely.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau