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Big Ten schools will 'all move together' in decision on football season

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

It's one for all and all for one.

Whether the Big Ten decides to reinstate its fall sports season, it will do so collectively, Wisconsin chancellor Rebecca Blank told reporters Monday in a rare, on-the-record comment by a conference executive.

"I will say we're all going to move together in the Big Ten," Blank said during the teleconference, audio of which The Detroit News received and reviewed.

"We're all going to play or not if we possibly can.

"This isn't going to be a school-by-school thing."

Ohio State players celebrate the team's 34-21 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game in 2019.

The comments came a day after the conference's 14 presidents and chancellors met again Sunday to review updated medical data and, according to Blank, viewed multiple proposals for a possible football season, but they didn't hold a vote. A formal vote is expected to take place at some point this week, with the Big Ten needing to flip six previous "nay" votes to "yea" in order to play fall football.

The previous vote to postpone the season, announced Aug. 11, was 11-3, with Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa the lone yeas. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin expected to flip this time — Blank wouldn't confirm that, saying only, "There are a variety of things that have changed since we first made that decision" — but it's unclear what other schools, if any, are prepared to join them amid a still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Michigan and Michigan State, both with presidents who are infectious-disease experts in Drs. Mark Schlissel and Samuel L. Stanley, respectively, voted no last time. Neither has given any indication how they'll vote this time.

Asked to confirm Blank's comments that this will be an all-or-nothing proposition for the Big Ten, spokespersons for Schlissel and Stanley both declined to comment when reached by The News on Monday. Stanley hasn't spoken to reporters since just after the Big Ten's initial announcement Aug. 11, and Schlissel has yet to hold a full press conference; he met individually with the student newspaper.

"The Big Ten Conference will handle any announcements," a spokesman for Schlissel said in an email to The News.

Blank's comments came after sports-talk radio host Dan Patrick reported earlier Monday that the Big Ten could play on without Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland and possibly Wisconsin. He said Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue and Indiana would play.

Patrick also said the presidents and chancellors would vote Monday; there was no indication they had voted Monday.

The Big Ten continues to face significant pressure from fans, parents, coaches and players — and even President Trump — to give 2020 football a shot. But the conference has been steadfast in that its decision won't be made by outside influences, including one active lawsuit brought by eight Nebraska players — their attorneys received some requested documents from the Big Ten on Monday, and they said they're reviewing them before commenting — and the threat of litigation by attorneys general from Ohio and Nebraska. Instead, it'll be based on science.

The emergence of rapid COVID-19 testing is a positive there, but the still-raging coronavirus is a roadblock, especially on college campuses. All Michigan State students have been told to quarantine for two weeks amid an outbreak there; Wisconsin athletics currently is shut down and it has gone to remote learning for two weeks given its spike in cases; Iowa just got back from a shut down; and Maryland, Ohio State, Rutgers, Indiana and Michigan State all have experienced football shutdowns amid outbreaks of varying degrees. Michigan shut down some sports for a while, but not football.

Multiple football players opted out of the season before the Big Ten's Aug. 11 announcement, including four from Michigan State and one from Michigan, citing health and safety concerns. And on Monday, Ohio State star cornerback Shaun Wade opted out. Interestingly, Wade's father, Randy, had been one of the most outspoken Big Ten parents protesting the conference's postponement decision.

Money won't even be the deciding factor, despite several Big Ten schools citing possible $100-million losses if the Big Ten doesn't play football.

At Michigan State, football generates nearly $80 million of the athletic department's $140 million in revenues, with nearly $20 million coming from football ticket sales, nearly $35 million for football TV rights, and another $1.4 million from football game-day parking and concessions. At Michigan, football brings in more than $122 million of the department's $198 million in revenues, with about $46 million for ticket sales, $35 million for football TV rights, and $2.5 million for game-day parking and concessions.

Michigan State also brings in about $12 million in contributions, often from alums, and often tied to football tickets. At Michigan, that figure is about $29 million.

At Michigan State, football and basketball profit more than $51 million, subsidizing the $25 million in losses from all other sports. At Michigan, football and basketball profit more than $86 million, making up for the $44 million in losses for all other sports.

Those financial figures come from the schools' 2018-19 financial reports, obtained by The News via the Freedom of Information Act.

It is worth noting, however, that the pandemic and sports shutdown results in some savings, too, like with team travel, recruiting travel and game-day operations — but that's a fraction of what schools like Michigan and Michigan State stand to miss out on.

Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman told reporters last month that the school has to consider the possibility of eliminating sports, as Iowa and Minnesota have done. At Michigan, there have been 21 positions eliminated in the athletic department, in addition to previous hiring freezes and pay cuts.

"We will continue to identify all necessary strategies to mitigate our circumstances," Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement announcing the cuts.

College football season kicked off over the weekend, with the Big 12 and ACC playing; the SEC starts later this month. The other Power Five conference, the Pac-12, also postponed its season, following the Big Ten's announcement.

If the Big Ten brings back football, it would need to start play before Halloween if it's going to have enough time to qualify for the College Football Playoff, and likely would need to start the week before or two weeks before, to allow for flexibility given game postponements are possible.

The Big Ten's other fall sports include men's and women's cross country, field hockey, men's and women's soccer and women's volleyball.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984