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Big Ten reverses course, aims for October start to football

Big Ten reverses course, aims for October start to football

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Northwestern Illinois Football

Northwestern quarterback Andrew Marty dives over Illinois defensive back Nick Walker to score a touchdown the first half of a game Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO — For a while there, it looked as if Big Ten Conference football would produce only one score this fall: 11-3.

As in, 11 schools voted to postpone fall sports and three (Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa) dissented.

But after weeks of criticism and cajoling from the likes of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Iowa football parents, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and President Donald Trump, the Big Ten crossed the 1-yard line — as Trump alluded to in a tweet.

The conference announced its restart Wednesday, declaring a unanimous vote on an intention to start playing Oct. 23-24 with a slate of eight games over eight weeks and a conference title game Dec. 19. The accelerated schedule accommodates Ohio State's desire to compete for a College Football Playoff berth and the wishes of TV executives who want to broadcast games of national significance.

"The priority has been health and safety, and it sounds like the questions that the presidents needed to be answered were answered," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Tuesday. "I'm excited for our guys to have a safe opportunity to play the game they love."

The conference's statement says the Big Ten has "adopted significant medical protocols including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition."

"Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities," said Dr. Jim Borchers the head team physician at Ohio State and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee. "The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities."

The league said it will provide updates on winter sports and other fall sports "shortly."

This being the Big Ten, though, the rollout was incredibly clumsy.

Nebraska President Ted Carter was caught on a hot mic before a Tuesday morning news conference, saying: "We're getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight."

That came after Minnesota football provided this tease on Twitter: "When was the last time #Gophers started a football season in October? #TriviaTuesday."

"Was it 1932, 1933, 1934 or 1935?"

The right answer: We only care about 2020.

A tweet from Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney reflected the angst that players have felt since the summer as they dealt with all the uncertainties regarding school and football: "Everyone only thinking about football. The rumors y'all keep putting out is destroying our mental health. Just let them announce it please. If you care about players in the B10 just wait for the answer."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the news of the approval of an eight-game schedule.

Nearly 24 hours later, the Big Ten put out a release in advance of its Wednesday video news conference.

Many expected a vote to come Sunday after presidents and chancellors heard plans regarding new COVID-19 testing kits that would eliminate the need for contact tracing. If teams can test players each morning and receive rapid results, those who test positive can be isolated and quarantined.

Presidents and chancellors also received updates on myocarditis that alleviated some – or enough – of their concerns.

Of course many were swayed — and possibly horrified — by the sight of games such as Duke-Notre Dame and Louisiana-Iowa State. If it was safe to play in South Bend, Ind., why not West Lafayette, Ind.? If football was allowed in Ames, Iowa, why not Iowa City?

Similarly, Ohio State players and fans wondered why the Buckeyes could not play — while Pop Warner, high school, the University of Cincinnati, the Browns and the Bengals could.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren might have believed he was setting the national tone when he announced Aug. 11 that the conference was postponing football. But his arguments during an interview with the Big Ten Network's Dave Revsine were unconvincing, and only the Pac-12 accompanied him among the Power Five.

The ACC and SEC played on, though more than a dozen games have been canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now Big Ten teams get to do the same.

But they'll do it with many of the league's top players — unless those stars have not signed with an agent and wish to stay eligible.

The most prominent announced opt-outs: Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Purdue receiver/returner Rondale Moore, Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, Illinois running back Ra'Von Bonner, Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson, Michigan State defensive end Jacub Panasiuk, Michigan tackle Jalen Mayfield and Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade, whose father, Randy, organized a "peaceful show of force" outside Big Ten headquarters Aug. 18.

Another issue is that some campuses are closed because of COVID spikes. Wisconsin last week announced a two-week shutdown of football workouts, and Michigan State has asked its students to self-quarantine. Maryland athletes are working out again after a pause since Sept. 3.

The games will be played on campus, according to Yahoo Sports, and only family members will be allowed to attend games at the outset.

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