Is today the day? Are the Big Ten presidents and chancellors going to vote on Sunday to reverse course on their Aug. 11 decision to cancel the fall football season? At this point, who the hell knows?
As someone who has proudly been watching the ABC network soap operas (RIP “All My Children” and “One Life to Live”) for damn near 30 years, even I was not prepared for the number of twists and turns that this ridiculous saga has taken over the past month.
From players suing the conference to disagreements over a potential connection between COVID-19 and heart inflammation; from protests outside an empty B1G headquarters to every random social media account claiming to have inside sources that literally never proved to be true; from the conference office turning a difficult situation into a PR traveshamockery to conspiracy theories that rival the shit from the Denver Airport — it has been a nutty, maddening four weeks.
But, friends, today might just be the end of our month-long Buckeye Nation-al nightmare, because legitimate journalists are now finally reporting that there is reason for B1G fans to be optimistic that football could be returning, and sooner than we had originally been led to believe.
If the reports are to be believed — and since they appear to be part of a coordinated campaign from inside the B1G itself, there’s no reason not to believe them — the conference’s presidents and chancellors (the individuals who will ultimately make the decision about when football will return) were given a very thorough presentation by the Return to Competition Task Force on Saturday.
Sources: The Big Ten presentation by the Return to Competition Task Force has ended successfully today. The full 14 Big Ten Chancellors and Presidents will meet tomorrow are expected to vote on return to play in next 72 hours. Today is the step before the step.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) September 12, 2020
That means, that they now have the most up-to-date information from the conference’s medical experts and administrators (including new OSU president Kristina Johnson) tasked with evaluating the safety of various restart plans. We already know that the initial cancellation decision was heavily influenced by a study done at Ohio State that showed early indications that roughly 15 percent of student-athletes that contracted COVID-19 also were positive for myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that leads to a higher risk of heart attack.
However, in the weeks since that original report was released, many in the medical community have questioned those findings, claiming that the research was too early to draw conclusions, and that other factors and variables could cloud the results.
Also over the past month, there have been significant advances in rapid testing that would allow a team to confirm that athletes were not positive for coronavirus in as quickly as 15 minutes. This would dramatically decrease the likelihood spreading the virus between teams.
These changes in the overall medical outlook could prove to be enough for the presidents to feel more comfortable in allowing the league’s schools to return to the football field, especially since the doctors on the task force reportedly believe that it is much safer now than they did a month ago.
A significant figure in the #B1G return to play saga is Dr. Jim Borchers, #OhioState's lead team physician. Co-chairs B1G medical subcommittee with PSU AD Sandy Barbour. League sources tell me they're very impressed with Borchers. His voice and those of other doctors key tomorrow— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) September 12, 2020
These changes, coupled (I’m sure) with the vocal public criticism from far and wide, seem to have moved the possibility of the league returning in time to compete in the College Football Playoff up far more than I thought that the normally monolithic B1G ever would allow.
However, just because there is momentum — especially amongst the public — certainly does not guarantee that any upcoming vote would result in games being played anytime soon.
Coming out of meeting today, buzzwords from two B1G sources familiar with the presentation for mid-October start: “Cautious optimism.”— Austin Ward (@AWardSports) September 12, 2020
Tomorrow looms as a huge day for the league. Decision could come as early as Sunday, still potential it could spill over into early in the week.
Now, the only thing that seems clear at this point is that there will be a vote on how and when to return coming up very soon, potentially at today’s scheduled meeting at 3 p.m. ET. But what we don’t know is specifically what they will be voting on, and what the votes could mean.
While many are assuming that a plan to begin games on Oct. 17 will be the primary focus of discussion, the presidents could also decide on the previously discussed options of returning post-Thanksgiving, in January, or even not until next fall. As with all things in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty, I wouldn’t advise getting your hopes up or counting any chickens before their hatched; oh, I’m sorry Coach Harbaugh, does that phrase make you nervous?
Beyond what might be voted on being completely up in the air at this point, the vote itself — and what it could mean for a potential return to the field — also appears to be very much in flux. There is growing discussion about how many teams would actually end up participating if the B1G returns to action this fall.
As we reported on Thursday, a source also told @TheAthleticCFB that it's possible the Big Ten as a whole moves forward with its return to play but individual schools still opt not to play in 2020.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) September 12, 2020
In the Aug. 11 vote, reportedly only Ohio State, Nebraska, and Iowa were pro-playing, depending on how Big Ten bylaws are interpreted in this highly unusual situation, they will need to be joined by either five or six other schools to get the season back on track.
But the question is, what happens to the teams that vote “No” if the resolution to return in October passes? Do their respective presidents force their football teams to sit out the fall while the rest of their conference brethren play a make-shift schedule? Or, do they acquiesce to the majority and allow their teams to play over their personal objections?
While information from the presidential level of these discussions is very difficult to get, the current whip count seems to indicate that those most likely to vote against returning in October are Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota.
While, those most likely to join OSU, Nebraska, and Iowa in voting to return are Penn State, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, and Northwestern. If those votes do shake out this way, that would leave Wisconsin as a potential deciding vote.
Athletic director and former football coach Barry Alvarez is the chair of the Return to Play Task Force, but the Badgers paused workouts for the football and men’s hockey teams last week, perhaps indicating that the administration has concerns about the safety protocol in place.
Spoke to Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez. The Badgers are on pause, but Alvarez said they are poised to play *if* the Big Ten returns. “Paul (Chryst) and I are on the same page on this. We can have our guys ready. We could have a team ready in 3 weeks. We feel comfortable with that.”— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) September 12, 2020
For the past month, Ohio State — and Big Ten football fans in general — have been frustratingly left in the dark while other conferences pieced together how to play a semi-conventional college football season. But now it feels as if the B1G might finally be figuring out how to build the frame for a season of their own. There are still many pieces missing in this ever-evolving puzzle, but for the first time in a month, it seems like we might have a completed picture in the very near future.