Big Ten football is returning soon.
The conference announced a fall season will begin on the weekend of Oct. 23-24. Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel and ABC had the news first. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel initially reported Tuesday that the conference voted to return.
Teams will play an eight-game schedule, along with an additional “Champions Week.” The Champions Week will include Big Ten East vs. West matchups based upon where each team finished in the standings. For example, second, third, fourth (etc.), place teams in the East and West Divisions are set to play one another on the season’s final weekend. Champions Week will be capped by the Big Ten Championship on Dec. 19.
A complete 2020 schedule, including start dates, should be released by the end of this week, according to Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez.
Right now, we do know the Gophers will open the season in October for the first time since 1932. That year, Minnesota finished with a 5-3 record in Bernie Bierman’s first season as head coach.
Current head coach P.J. Fleck and his staff are now preparing for upcoming practices and games. The team must be ready for action in just 37 days.
“We have a mature football team, and our culture is about responding,” Fleck said in a statement. “We will be ready to play, and I know our players are excited to be able to compete again.”
How did we get here?
Wednesday’s Big Ten reversal occurred after weeks of continued dialogue. Over the past few days, Presidents and Chancellors met to discuss new developments, including COVID-19 testing, according to Yahoo’s Pete Thamel.
The Big Ten initially postponed fall sports on Aug. 11 due to ongoing health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, conference officials hinted at a possible spring season.
So much has happened since then.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields started a “We Want to Play” petition and accumulated more than 302,000 signatures. Additionally, eight Nebraska football players filed a lawsuit against the Big Ten in late August. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren even met with President Donald Trump to discuss the situation.
What changed and led to the reversal?
In recent weeks, there have been ongoing conversations between coaches, athletic directors, University presidents/chancellors and Big Ten officials. New testing developments suddenly altered the opinions of key stakeholders. As part of the Big Ten’s medical protocol, student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games are required to undergo daily antigen testing. All of those test results must be completed prior to each practice or game.
Additionally, players who test positive for COVID-19 through point of contact (POC) daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result of the POC test. If a player tests positive, the earliest they can return to game competition is 21 days after the positive test.
Of course, a large financial commitment was needed to test individuals every day. Commissioner Kevin Warren said costs associated with COVID-19 testing measures will be covered by the Big Ten Conference.
In addition to testing availability, concerns surrounding a possible link between myocarditis and COVID-19 played a role in the Big Ten’s initial postponement. The conference has put protocols in place to monitor this. Athletes who test positive for COVID-19 will also undergo cardiac testing, including labs and biomarkers, ECG, an Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI. Once those tests results are received, the player must be cleared by a cardiologist.
Ultimately, after extensive deliberation, Presidents and Chancellors felt comfortable with the Big Ten’s new protocols. University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel supported the conference’s reversal due to medical and safety advancements.
“I support restarting the Big Ten football season,” Gabel said in a statement. “The health and safety of our student-athletes and the community that surrounds them was and has always been our top priority. We have continued to listen to medical professionals and follow their expert advice during the past month. With the additional research, enhanced safety protocols, and a commitment to work closely together as a conference on research and safety for student-athletes, we are now ready to play football.”
Minnesota Athletic Director Mark Coyle was also involved in daily meetings to reach this conclusion. Conference officials across the Big Ten continued to gain additional information and collaborated to reach this decision.
“I want to thank President Joan Gabel for her continued leadership and our football student-athletes for their patience and understanding,” Coyle said in a statement. “The plan to restart football has been methodical and prudent and has always placed the safety and wellness of the student-athlete first. I am excited for our football student-athletes and for our fans who will once again be able to watch the Gophers compete.”
More specific details are continuing to filter out, including the season’s structure. What will practices look like? How many practices are necessary to get players ready? What will the schedule look like?
However, Big Ten football programs now know a season is officially on the horizon.
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