Let’s take a moment to thank Garrett Snodgrass, Garrett Nelson, Ethan Piper, Noa Pola-Gates, Alante Brown, Brant Banks, Brig Banks and Jackson Hannah.
Those eight Nebraska football players filed a lawsuit against the Big Ten, prompting the conference to defend its decision to delay fall football by revealing its 11-3 vote.
And thanks to sources, we learned that Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa were in the #LetUsPlay group.
Another vote is pending, and this one could be more complicated. Rutgers might decline to play but still vote “yes” to greenlight a fall or winter schedule. But that could depend on whether Ohio State is willing to share revenue equally.
That’s what school presidents and chancellors are discussing as we head into the first full Saturday of college football. Is it safe to return with so many campuses having paused workouts? Are there certain medical thresholds that must be reached before returning? Will the ‘haves’ play nice with the ‘have-nots’ — and vice versa?
Based on public statements and conversations with sources within the conference, here’s our ranking of the schools that most (and least) want to play.
I’m surprised Scott Frost didn’t join the rally outside Big Ten headquarters and hold up a boombox playing the Nebraska fight song. He did go to Memorial Stadium on what would have been the Huskers’ opener, telling the Omaha World-Herald: “I know this institution was capable of playing football and I really believe that’s what is best for the young men.” Athletic director Bill Moos is in concert with Frost, telling the Omaha paper that all 14 ADs favored fall football. Nebraska officials said Thursday that they’re on the cusp of being able to conduct rapid COVID-19 tests.
The Buckeyes are in championship-or-bust mode, so a late-November start is as appealing as a BLT without the bacon. As coach Ryan Day put it in his statement: “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.”
Athletic director Gary Barta dropped a clue regarding his mindset when he said in late May that he would not rule out welcoming a full house to Kinnick Stadium on fall Saturdays. “As long as the virus is here and until a vaccine can be created, there will be risks,” he said. Iowa paused football workouts Aug. 31 after 11 players reportedly tested positive, but the Hawkeyes are back at it.
President Eric Barron released a generic statement supporting the Big Ten’s Aug. 11 announcement to delay fall sports but has been quiet since. Athletic director Sandy Barbour questioned whether a vote even took place, and coach James Franklin has been vocal in lobbying for football — or at least transparency from the commissioner’s office.
Within 48 hours of the Aug. 11 announcement, coach Jeff Brohm outlined a plan for an eight-game season beginning Feb. 27 that included postseason play. He since has backed off that timetable, joining “the sooner the better” camp. Purdue President Mitch Daniels released a statement Sept. 1 saying medical advice made it “too uncertain to proceed in good conscience.” Could Daniels be swayed? He is a former Republican governor in a red state.
Coach Tom Allen is gung-ho about playing, but it’s tough to get a feel for the administration. Athletic director Scott Dolson delivered a stern warning via Zoom to Indiana’s 700 athletes Friday, warning them about a spike in positive tests. The university reported a concerning 7.3% positivity rate across the campus in recent testing. Four teams paused workouts indefinitely Sept. 4, but football was not one of them.
The Illinois administration is so proud of its advances in rapid saliva testing, nary a Zoom call goes by without a mention. The university imposed a lockdown last week after a surge in cases, but athletic director (and former Illini tight end) Josh Whitman is hoping football returns, telling SI: “We didn’t get a ton of notice when we hit the stop button, and we may not get a ton of notice when we hit the start button again.”
Those who assume the egghead school is content to sit out 2020 don’t understand President Morton Schapiro’s passion for sports, especially football. He probably knows the Wildcats’ 2-deep as well as Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith knows that of the Buckeyes. Northwestern has been so diligent in its protocols, it paused practice for several days because of one positive test — and that turned out to be a false positive.
The Badgers might want to play, but not for a while. Athletic director Barry Alvarez said Friday on his monthly radio show that Big Ten presidents and chancellors will not approve football until “they feel comfortable that the medical questions … are answered. It’s not some magical date or who does the best lobbying.” Alvarez, who chairs the Big Ten’s Return to Play task force, on Wednesday announced that the football and men’s hockey teams were taking a two-week break from all team activities because of COVID-19 protocols.
The ultimate clash of science versus football and academia versus athletics is taking place in Ann Arbor, Mich. Unless President and renown antibodies expert Mark Schlissel gets unseated — and fast — he’s expected to win the power struggle with coach Jim Harbaugh. One additional amusing theory making the Big Ten rounds: However Ohio State votes, Michigan will do the opposite.
President Samuel Stanley has a medical degree from Harvard, and first-year coach Mel Tucker has a depleted roster with few seniors. You know the saying that all politics is local? Coaches around the conference believe the Spartans have little appetite to suit up in 2020 with the threat of going winless.
The university suspended all athletic activities Sept. 3 after a spike in COVID-19 cases. In stressing the school’s emphasis on the “health, safety and welfare of our student athletes,” athletic director Damon Evans borrowed a line from Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren.
Coach P.J. Fleck said that after the Aug. 11 decision was made, he sought the opinion of his Gophers. “Every player has said the Big Ten made the right decision,” he said. If the garrulous Fleck had done a 180 by now, we probably would have heard about it. Plus the Gophers are in a pro-science state.
Last, as usual. Or, for those who believe playing football during a pandemic is foolish, the Scarlet Knights are first. School President Jonathan Holloway came out strong in an NJ Advance Media story, saying the conference should wait until it can “learn about the science, different kinds of tests and potential vaccines.” And he called President Donald Trump’s involvement in the Big Ten “cheap politics.”
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