Big Ten pulls plug on football, fall sports
Big Ten players and coaches spoke, and the administrators didn't listen.
The conference officially canceled football and all fall sports on Tuesday afternoon, a move that was quickly matched by the Pac-12.
The news was somewhat expected, but still hit like an illegal peel back block. The Big Ten just released a revised football schedule six days ago. Many schools, including Illinois, practiced Tuesday morning. Michigan practiced after the news was released. Many players, parents and coaches made last-minute pleas on Twitter in the last 24 hours to play the season.
The league is hoping to play fall sports in the spring, if there's a better climate with COVID-19. Some people were complaining about Michgan-Ohio State being scheduled for October. How is it going to play in April?
"We just believe collectively there's too much uncertainty in this point in time in our country to encourage our student athletes to participate in fall sports," Commissioner Kevin Warren said on the Big Ten Network.
During his television appearance, Warren talked around most questions from studio host Dave Revsine. But it seems clear the Big Ten is very concerned about the coronavirus causing myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can be fatal.
"I said from Day One that it was important that we would follow and listen and understand and appreciate and embrace the advice from our medical experts and that's what we're doing here," Warren said. "There's too much uncertainty."
The news to cancel fall sports was pretty straightforward, but there are still plenty of questions and not many answers.
• If it's not safe to play fall sports, is it safe for students to return to campus, as most Big Ten schools are planning in a few weeks?
It's one thing for football players to commit to wearing masks, practicing good hygiene and staying socially distant. They were also getting tested for COVID-19 at least twice per week. Illinois tested players every day. The general student population seems less likely to follow the same protocols.
• The SEC, ACC and Big 12 continue to move forward with plans to play football this season, along with the Sun Belt, American Athletic, and Conference USA. If those leagues play a complete football season, will the Big Ten have made a mistake?
It would be strange if Notre Dame, as a guest member of the ACC, plays this fall while the Big Ten schools sit out. But this one could go either direction. If the other leagues play, the Big Ten becomes an afterthought temporarily. If the other leagues can't pull it off, then the Big Ten could say it made the right call.
• Will football be any safer in the spring?
This one is anyone's guess. It's been five months since the NBA suspended its season and progress in this country has been, let's say, deliberate. If a spring season does happen, teams will be practicing mostly indoors. August practices were all outdoors with no students on campus. Which version is safer in a pandemic?
• Is it safe for athletes to play two football seasons in 2021 -- one in the spring and another in the fall, presumably.
Nervous laughter is the only response to this question at the moment.
• Will some Big Ten teams go rogue and play a fall schedule anyway?
This is one of the questions Warren dodged on BTN. Nebraska's Scott Frost and Ohio State's Ryan Day both said Monday other options would be considered, but such a path seems unlikely. Maybe we'll get a chance to see how airtight those conference contracts were written.
• What was the vote tally when school presidents arrived at this decision?
That was another dodge by Warren. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith went on BTN after Warren and said, 'We would have preferred to play.' Based on everything that's come out of Nebraska it seems likely the Cornhuskers also voted against the plan. Beyond that, it's unclear.
• Why didn't the Big Ten hold off on a final decision and maybe delay playing games?
This answer is also unclear, but the league clearly put its faith in the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee -- as it should.
With so many unknowns about COVID-19, following the science is a pretty good option.