Iowa Football

Big Ten goes from pacesetter to putz, and back with football decision

Empty football stadiums, but league now has all-important full TV inventory

Good seats (and bad ones) will be unavailable at Kinnick Stadium this season. (The Gazette)
Good seats (and bad ones) will be unavailable at Kinnick Stadium this season. (The Gazette)

Never doubt the power of football in America.

You want access to immediate COVID-19 testing with rapid results? Assume a bit more physical risk and join a Big Ten football team.

Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez — who I sometimes think is the real Big Ten commissioner — was part of the conference’s Zoom panel Wednesday in the media conference call announcing the return of Big Ten football, the fourth weekend of October. On Alvarez’s campus — er, the Wisconsin campus — everyone is going to class online right now because of all the recent COVID-19 cases there.

One gets the idea these are not normal times.

There won’t be fans at the games other than family members of the players, but there will be people there to put on television productions of the games. There will be inventory, as they call it in the sports/TV biz. There will be television money returning to the conference.

Will it be enough to save the sports that have been cut recently at Iowa and Minnesota? Well ...

Oh, and there are the games themselves. That’s something pretty big to a lot of people, starting with the participants.

As this is written, 13 FBS games this season have been postponed or canceled because of the coronavirus. Saturday’s college football schedule looks less interesting than the first week of bowl season. The Central Arkansas-Arkansas State game was postponed because of what an Arkansas State news release called “The inability to field a safe number of players among the depleted position group.”

The Red Wolves’ celebration of their upset win at Kansas State last Saturday was short-lived. Kansas State didn’t celebrate, but at least it played last week. Big 12 brothers Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU were scheduled to do likewise, but COVID-19 had other ideas.

If the first Big Ten betting line posted for the revamped season is an over/under on how many of the scheduled games will be played, take the over. Besides having daily antigen testing, the players will have a lot of motivation to keep themselves from dicey situations. It’s amazing how people can stick to protocols when there’s something in it for them.

Those players came to their schools to make names for themselves, to do things and be somebody in football. They’re more motivated to steer clear of risky coronavirus situations than the general student population, or the selfish goof in the supermarket who refuses to wear a mask.

“I really believe our players have a clear vision of what is important,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said on BTN Wednesday, “whether it be football or life.”

It’s still a long season, football players are still college kids, and living in a pseudo bubble is a hard way to live. So is playing football outdoors on Dec. 19 in the Midwest, especially if you’re a seventh-place team in your division playing against a seventh-place team in its division.

You might call the Big Ten running a reverse from its football shutdown a win for public pressure. Three weeks of games getting played elsewhere made the Big Ten look foolish and feeble to many. The league’s image, in just 35 days, went from being that of a pacesetter to that of a putz.

Nebraska’s administration, running on a populist football-now platform in its state for the last five weeks, probably feels more like a winner today than it has since current Huskers head coach Scott Frost was its quarterback in 1997.

You might call this a win for political pressure. There are any number of politicians who will claim credit for the Big Ten changing courses, though none of them will explain why a nation with 4.4 percent of the world’s population has over 21 percent of the deaths caused by COVID-19.

The most-substantial pressure, of course, was financial. This would have been a shut-and-shut case without the money football brings to the conference. It took an extra month for most of the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors to accept the reality their football programs really are too big to fail. See Penn State University, 2011.


Soon enough, perhaps, a big worry for the Big Ten will be something trivial, like if an 8-1 Big Ten team deserves a College Football Playoff berth ahead of a 9-1 Big 12 team.

For now, though, the rush is on to get players in football shape and ready to play games. The wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth is over, for now. Let the games begin, as well as the social-distanced tailgating away from university property.

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