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Sports >  NCAA football

Big Ten football remains in limbo after another day of stalling

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 15, 2020

Kevin Warren, the commissioner of the Big Ten, speaks to media during a news conference in 2019.  (Associated Press)
Kevin Warren, the commissioner of the Big Ten, speaks to media during a news conference in 2019. (Associated Press)
By Chris Solari Detroit Free Press

The Big Ten Conference might play football in 2020 after all. But as of Tuesday evening, no decision to reboot the season had been announced.

Conference leaders are expected to approve an eight-game, nine-week schedule that could begin as soon as Oct. 17, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other media outlets reported Tuesday. That would put the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 19, the day before the College Football Playoff field is scheduled to be revealed. There also remains a possibility the season could begin the weekend of Oct. 24.

On Tuesday evening, Michigan State president Samuel Stanley addressed members of the football program in a Zoom video conference call. While Stanley did not reveal any news on when the season might begin, multiple people who participated in the call said Stanley expected to provide an update soon.

When that is remains to be seen.

A high-ranking person at one Big Ten school said Tuesday it remains unclear whether all 14 teams will be playing or whether some may opt out of the season due to concerns over COVID-19 and other risks. The conference’s presidents and chancellors were not expected to announce a decision on resuming the season Tuesday, according to Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated. It has been expected the conference would move in unison.

“I will say we’re all going to move together in the Big Ten,” Wisconsin chancellor Rebecca Blank said Monday on a teleconference with reporters. “We’re all going to play or not if we possibly can. This isn’t going to be a school-by-school thing.”

Tuesday marked the latest chaotic day in the Big Ten’s monthlong soap opera.

On Tuesday morning, University of Nebraska president Ted Carter got caught before a news conference on an open microphone by Lincoln TV station KETV saying the conference planned to announce it would resume football later that evening.

“We’re getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight,” Carter told Bob Hinson, the director of the National Strategic Research Institute, in a masked conversation caught on camera and audio.

Around the same time — via video in front of a Senate subcommittee hearing of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about the NCAA’s name, image and likeness regulations — Blank, the Wisconsin chancellor, was dodging questions on whether the Big Ten would resume football and fall sports.

“I’m not going to speak to that. You’re gonna have to let the Big Ten make that announcement when and if such a decision is made,” she told Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia). “When such a decision happens, your first question should be, ‘What’s changed?’ … I can’t say what the vote is going to look like. Decisions within the Big Ten are largely majority-based decisions. But I’ll be honest, we almost always decide everything by consensus. We very rarely take votes.”

All of that came after Ohio State cardiologist Curt Daniels, co-author of a paper on the link to myocarditis (heart linflammation) among athletes who tested positive for COVID-19, told the Columbus Dispatch his research with Buckeyes head team physician Dr. James Borchers had been misconstrued. In the study that was released Friday, they reported four of 26 OSU athletes showed signs of myocarditis while also adding the study remains ongoing because it is an extremely small sample size.

“I think we have a safe way to return to play,” Daniels told the Dispatch. “I hope that we will find a way to do so.”

In the Senate subcommittee hearing, Blank made reference to the initial science on myocarditis as she explained why the Big Ten indefinitely delayed fall sports in August.

“There were several main reasons for that,” Blank responded. “One was that we were uncertain that we could do the level of testing and contract tracing that we needed to keep athletes safe. Secondly, there was this growing evidence about heart-related myocarditis, and that evidence was uncertain and it wasn’t clear what it meant. And we wanted to know more.

“There were a few other more minor reasons. But until we have answers to that, we will keep our season postponed. Once we have answers to that and some of those issues and things that we have ways to deal with them effectively, we will try to plan a delayed season.”

Yet, as the moments of the morning and early afternoon faded, no official announcement came from the Big Ten. And the conference entered the evening in the same place it has been for more than a month.

In limbo.

The talk of a potential resumption of football comes as a number of Big Ten universities, including Michigan State and Michigan, are dealing with COVID-19 and related issues across their campuses. Students living in East Lansing were ordered to quarantine for 14 days due to a growing number of cases off-campus, and graduate students and residence hall staffs were on strike in Ann Arbor.

But football has grown into a massive optical problem for presidents as other leagues kicked off around the country and Big Ten parents, players and coaches filed a lawsuit in Nebraska and protested around the conference, with new commissioner Kevin Warren becoming the focal point of fan and political frustration, including in tweets from President Donald Trump.

Though it was presidents and chancellors who voted 11-3 to delay fall sports, Warren — not even a year into the job after taking over for retired Jim Delany — struggled with a friendly-fire interview on Big Ten Network the day the league decided to postpone. His lack of clarity and the decision-makers’ lack of transparency, coupled with a 23-page detailed reasoning from the Pac-12 on why it chose to delay the season, turned the Big Ten into a punching bag for parents, coaches, politicians, attorneys and other conferences.

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