Will the Big Ten flip six votes and restart football? We'll know soon
Upon further review — not to mention, parent protests, player petitions and threats of lawsuits — the Big Ten's presidents and chancellors were meeting again Sunday, deliberating whether to bring back fall sports, including football.
The conference's leadership was on a Zoom call well into the evening Sunday, though despite earlier optimism by some that there would be a resolution, no vote was taken. That vote could come in the coming days, possibly even Monday, after presidents and chancellors take the detailed medical data they received over the weekend back to their own teams of doctors and regents or trustees.
To resurrect the season, the Big Ten needs to flip six votes — from three yays last time around, to nine this time — to reach the 60% threshold required by the conference's bylaws. One month ago, conference's leadership was said to have voted 11-3 to postpone, though two presidents publicly said it was more a consensus than a vote.
Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa were the yay votes last time, and since, attorneys general from Ohio and Nebraska have raised the threat of lawsuits against the conference on behalf of their state schools, the Ohio AG citing "breach of contract".
As the presidents and chancellors were meeting Sunday, schedule-makers were working on an eight-game conference slate, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, but who asked to remain anonymous because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter. A 10-game conference schedule, like the one released just days before the Big Ten shut down the first time around, still is under consideration ahead of the Dec. 19 conference championship game, depending on when the season could start, according to the source.
According to multiple reports, including one from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Big Ten was eyeing a possible Oct. 17 restart. Other reports said Oct. 24. Either way, should the Big Ten start by Oct. 30 — assuming there are no postponements, which is a big if given others conferences already have postponed games, including, most notably, Virginia Tech-Virginia — the conference would find itself eligible for the College Football Playoff, which announces its four-team field Dec. 20.
When the Big Ten presidents and chancellors opted to postpone fall sports — including men's and women's cross country, field hockey, men's and women's soccer and women's volleyball — it cited the concerns about student-athlete health and safety.
The biggest issue was testing. The NCAA has mandated every student-athlete be tested weekly, which caused issues on the cost front ($75-$100 a test), but more importantly, the logistical front. Waiting periods for results, and accuracy, was paramount here. But the emergence of rapid, accurate testing has appeared to change the outlook, not only for the Big Ten, but also the Pac-12, the other Power Five conference to pull the plug.
The Big 12 and ACC started their seasons this weekend, with the SEC scheduled to start later this month.
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has consistently said medical data will drive the conference's decisions moving forward, and not outside pressure from marquee coaches like Michigan's Jim Harbaugh ("We're ready to play") or Ohio State's Ryan Day ("Our players want to know: why can't they play?"), or the hundreds of millions the schools are bracing to lose if there is no football season — bleak budget outlooks that already have led to the elimination of sports teams at Iowa and Minnesota, layoffs at Michigan, and several schools scrambling to secure big-buck loans.
The improvement of testing, though, wouldn't seem to provide the all-clear, given the spate of COVID-19 outbreaks on campus across the country, including Michigan State, where Ingham County health officials sternly suggested that every student quarantine for two weeks amid a massive spike in cases. Wisconsin recently shut down its athletic programs for at least two weeks, though athletic director Barry Alvarez has said he believes football could still be ready to play by mid- to late October.
Alvarez, though, has said the Big Ten still has to be comfortable with the medical information presented, during Saturday and Sunday meetings.
"It's as simple as that," Alvarez said on his radio show this week. "It's not some magical date or who does the best lobbying. Questions have to be answered."
Alvarez, in citing lobbying, references the political winds that have blown into Big Ten country, with several states' lawmakers urging Warren to reconsider the original decision, and even President Trump weighing in twice on Twitter, and once during his rally last week outside Saginaw, blaming governors of several Big Ten states, including Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer, for holding up Big Ten football. Whitmer said she had nothing to do with the decision, but supported it.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin was expected to be a "yes" vote this time, after being a "no" last time. It's unclear what other votes will switch.
There's no indication how Michigan and Michigan State were set to vote. Their presidents, Mark Schlissel and Samuel L. Stanley, are doctors, whose expertise was heavily weighted during the first go-around, according to a court filing by the Big Ten in response to a lawsuit filed by eight Nebraska football players.
Aside from Michigan State and Wisconsin, other Big Ten schools that have had COVID-19 shutdowns amid the athletic programs include Iowa, Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana and Ohio State, with Michigan shutting down for a time, too, for everything except football.
The state of Michigan witnessed its first football game of the fall season Sunday when the Lions lost to the Bears at Ford Field. High-school football will start this week, after the Michigan High School Athletic Association originally postponed its season; all players will be required to wear face masks, however.
The state's other college football conferences — including the Mid-American Conference, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association — have made no indication they're considering playing football this fall.
In additional imminent college news, the NCAA on Wednesday is expected to announce its start date for college basketball. All signs indicate a start around Thanksgiving, with teams allowed to reschedule their earlier nonconference games for later in the season.