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Big Ten coaches, ADs discussing 'a lot of ideas' about possible start of football season

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Multiple reports the last two days suggest options for a Big Ten football season are on the table, ranging from starting after Thanksgiving, early January, or even in February after the Super Bowl.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren announced the postponement of Big Ten fall sports more than two weeks ago, citing the health and well-being of the student athletes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But there has been continued public pressure, particularly from the parents of football players, to reverse course. The Pac-12 also pulled the plug on football and fall sports, while three of the Power Five conferences, including the SEC, continues to prepare to play.

Ben Mason

The latest round of speculation was triggered Thursday night with a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that said Big Ten coaches are working on a plan to start the season after Thanksgiving. That was taken up a notch on Friday with one report by The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman saying Big Ten coaches were meeting on a call Friday and there’s a “real possibility” the Big Ten may actually flip-flop and play this fall.

Two sources confirmed to The Detroit News that several options regarding start dates for football are being bandied about among the coaches and athletic directors, but the ultimate decision will be made by university presidents/chancellors and Warren.

“There are a lot of ideas,” one source told The News on Friday. “All a matter of if conditions improve.”

The “if” was stressed, and by that is meant, improved conditions based in large part on increased, rapid COVID-19 testing.

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The suggestion was made to pump the brakes on speculation about a season start, although beginning the season in January seems to have more legs than other options.

As for the report about a Big Ten coaches call Friday, perhaps some coaches met, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, per two sources, was not on a call with conference coaches.

What also has been discussed among coaches and athletic directors regarding a January start is the use of domed stadiums, like the Lions’ Ford Field, a source confirmed to The News.

Lawyer Tom Mars, known in the college football world for his work on immediate eligibility for transferring athletes, has been working with parents of Big Ten football players who are vehemently opposed to the Big Ten’s decision to postpone the season. Among those parents is a group of Michigan parents, 90 families strong, who have filed a letter with Warren and Michigan president Mark Schlissel demanding transparency on the matter.

Mars, on the behalf of Big Ten parents, has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the 13 Big Ten public universities – Northwestern is a private institution and not required under FOIA to open its records, and the Big Ten also is immune. He indicated Friday that if the Big Ten reverses course, he will withdraw his requests.

Michigan players who met with local media on Thursday said they’re open to playing now, later this year, or early next year. Upperclassmen are weighing their options whether to stick around for a winter season that may or may not happen, or leave for the NFL. Already two players, right tackle Jalen Mayfield and cornerback Ambry Thomas, have declared for the NFL Draft.

“Give us the date, and we’ll be there,” senior fullback Ben Mason said.

Junior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is at a critical point in his career and was looking forward to showing this fall how much he has improved physically and in terms of his overall game.

“I’d be thrilled to play football in January, or in April or May, I don’t care when we play football,” Hutchinson said. “I was so excited for this year, I made so many improvements in my game, I made a total body transformation and I was so ready for this season. It was sad it got taken from me and all my teammates. I just really want to play football.”