The Big Ten is looking more foolish by the day.
And the calls for the league to reverse a needlessly rushed early August decision are growing louder.
High school football is underway in a majority of states around the country. Indiana high school football is about to enter week four, with some fans in the stands, minimal disruptions, and no major issues reported.
There have been only a few college football games played thus far. But the power five train is leaving the station without the Big Ten this weekend. Ranked programs including Clemson, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and Texas all kickoff on Saturday.
Of course the NFL opened its season on time with some fans in the stands in Kansas City on Thursday night. And all of that ignores the NBA, MLB and countless other organized sports that have navigated the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten can’t get out of its own way.
While most of the league’s student bodies have returned to campus by the tens of thousands, football in empty stadiums with healthy players apparently remains inconceivable.
As we shared yesterday, the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors were behind the August decision to postpone, and they are reportedly about to meet again to reconsider.
That vote appears to be just days away, and perhaps in an effort to influence the decision, many voices have emerged publicly this week.
One person that has an actual say in the matter said enough is enough on Thursday.
Nebraska president Ted Carter said during a TV interview “it’s time for the Big Ten to put out a plan.”
Any new plan would likely reflect numerous safety protocols if the league is to move beyond its health concerns of a month ago.
Indiana Director of Athletics Scott Dolson spoke to the Bloomington Rotary Club this week and noted that much has changed since the league’s decision to postpone.
“Even in the time period since we postponed, there has been significant progress, which is great news,” Dolson said.
Also since the decision to postpone, much of the rest of the football world has moved on.
Dolson also remarked that it is hard for his student athletes to watch other teams moving forward while they wait.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day echoed those sentiments.
“These young men and their parents have asked so many questions that I do not have an answer to, but the one that hurts the most is ‘Why can these other teams and players play and we can’t,” Day said. “Duke is playing Notre Dame, and Clemson is playing Wake Forest this weekend. Our players want to know: why can’t they play?”
One thing is clear. There is a near consensus among players, parents, coaches and athletic directors. They want to play.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh could not have been more clear on that point.
“We want to play as soon as we possibly can, and we’re ready to play,” Harbaugh told reporters as he walked in Ann Arbor at a parent organized protest of the Big Ten’s decision over the weekend. “We could be ready to play a game in two weeks. Let’s get the pads on. Our guys have trained without a pause since June 15. That’s our position. We’re ready to play as soon as we possibly can play.”
The Big Ten has been consistent in its stance that the decision reached in August was entirely based on the health and safety of the players.
But the league hasn’t been at all clear when it comes to what the specific health concerns are and how they might be overcome.
That has created more questions than answers for coaches and administrators that have to face confused and frustrated athletes on a daily basis.
Penn State head coach James Franklin expressed his own frustration toward the Big Ten during an ESPN Radio interview on Thursday, saying that “we just haven’t gotten great communication from the beginning” from the conference.
Day expressed similar frustration with the league.
“While I understand the Big Ten Conference’s decision to postpone the football season because of health and safety considerations, the communication of information from the Big Ten following the decision has been disappointing and often unclear,” Day said.
Perhaps the league has struggled to explain its decision because, in the end, it wasn’t a conclusion reached with a unified voice.
Instead, 14 presidents and chancellors, with 14 unique perspectives came to an 11-3 decision to postpone fall sports.
One of the 11 against playing sounds intent on not changing his mind.
“If I’m wrong because I was erring on the side of safety, I don’t have a problem with that,” Rutgers president Jonathan Holloway told NJ Advance Media on Thursday.
At least Holloway can say that with something of a straight face, as most of his student body is taking classes remotely.
Indiana president Michael McRobbie welcomed more than 40,000 students back to Bloomington while simultaneously voting to postpone fall sports. Since then COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in Greek housing on the IU campus.
Big Ten programs continue to pause voluntary workouts when relatively minor outbreaks occur, introducing another potential obstacle to playing a season in 2020.
Wisconsin has paused workouts, while teams like Ohio State are currently conducting practices. That kind of imbalance during a season would be impossible to navigate.
The saving grace might be better testing, and that is likely the significant progress that Dolson was referring to.
Real-time testing will allow teams to be sure that only the healthy are competing, while likely also eliminating the need to shut down the entire team.
While nothing is certain until the anticipated vote this weekend or early next week, it is enough to give some hope.
“We still have an opportunity to give our young men what they have worked so hard for: a chance to safely compete for a national championship this fall,” Day said.
The league does still have an opportunity, but the window gets smaller with each passing today.
Meanwhile, the rest of the sports world, including even the Big Ten’s own men’s basketball programs, seems to be moving on.
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