You’ve certainly read by now that the Big Ten is contemplating a return to football. As with everything Big Ten right now, the details are sketchy.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors met on Sunday and, according to multiple reports, continues to discuss the possibility of fall football. The most-direct line to this came Monday out of Madison, where chancellor Rebecca Blank said during a teleconference when asked about Big Ten football: “I will say we’re all going to move together in the Big Ten. We’re all going to play or not if we possibly can. This isn’t going to be a school by school thing.”
That statement threw water on various reports that had Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and several other Big Ten schools sitting out the 2020 season while the others go ahead with the season. Iowa, Ohio State and Nebraska have been the consistent voices in the league to play this fall.
The Big Ten’s return to competition task force and medical committee made a presentation to the league’s presidential steering committee. The eight presidents and chancellors on that committee — including University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld — met with the other six Sunday to hear the same presentation. According to Yahoo Sports, league officials have decided to present the league’s plan to return to play — medical, scheduling and television — formally to the full COPC.
Blank also said Monday the presidents and chancellors “had a very good discussion” Sunday and continue to look at proposals. This could take a day or three.
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A late October start has been discussed and reported, but no sign from presidents and chancellors on a “when.” On Sept. 3, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said it would take a miracle for an October return, but, as with nearly everything COVID-19, the sands shift quickly.
The rapid saliva testing and further studies on the heart condition myocarditis are two things that have changed since Aug. 11. Presidents who previously voted not to play this fall due to medical concerns cited those concerns. Rapid testing could allow teams to check players the morning of games and keep anyone off the field who tests positive.
No guarantees, but if the light switch flips and turns on Big Ten football, there will be a ton of questions for how football will look during a pandemic.
Players will continue to test positive. Iowa athletics released its weekly COVID-19 count on Monday and 23 athletes (Iowa doesn’t release sports-specific numbers) tested positive out of 653 tests for the week of Sept. 7-13. Since Iowa began reporting on COVID-19 on May 29, it’s had 221 positives out of 3,489 tests.
Under Big Ten protocols, anyone known to have been in close contact with a player who tests positive — and that group can grow considerably once full-contact football begins — must also quarantine.
College football has been played the last two weekends. Outbreaks have happened. Half of Memphis’ roster tested positive. There also have been postponements.
Since Aug. 11, the NCAA has allowed teams not playing football this fall to practice 12 hours a week. Most Big Ten and Pac-12 teams have been in a summer workout mode. How long will Big Ten teams be allowed to hold fall camp? When the pandemic first fell over football, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz believed four weeks could do it. The consensus seems to be four to six weeks, which would be pushing it for an Oct. 17 start.
Players will test positive. Practices and workouts likely will end up closed at some point. Iowa closed down in late August. A long list of ACC, Big 12 and SEC programs — the Power Five conferences that are trying to power through — either halted preseason workouts or practiced through significant absences.
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The University of Wisconsin currently is under a two-week lockdown, so there’s no practice for the Badgers at the moment. More campuswide outbreaks probably should be expected.
With all of the caveats, who knows what could happen with the pandemic in the next month? It was reported Monday that scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have taken a “major step” toward a potential drug treatment for COVID-19. Pitt School of Medicine researchers discovered the smallest biological molecule to date that “completely and specifically” neutralizes the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to a report published Monday in the journal Cell.
The season might push off the dock. It might take some time to get to the other side of the lake.
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