While reversing course on football, Big Ten didn't even answer its own questions

  • The Big Ten's change of direction with fall sports left plenty of questions unanswered, including some raised by the conference itself when the plug was pulled last month.

    The Big Ten's change of direction with fall sports left plenty of questions unanswered, including some raised by the conference itself when the plug was pulled last month. Associated Press

Updated 9/17/2020 6:20 PM

So what was the breakthrough that made the Big Ten feel it was safe to play football after all?

Was it daily antigen testing? Maybe, but the University of Illinois said it was testing its players every day back in early August. Has the process gotten significantly cheaper or better in just four weeks?


Was it the comprehensive cardiac testing to check for and study the effects of cardiomyopathy in COVID-19 patients? That seems like a worthwhile program, but doctors already knew a lot about cardiomyopathy and the potential risk for athletes who had tested positive for COVID-19. So that's something the conference could have implemented in August.

Was it school administrators realizing they weren't ready to deal with the backlash? This theory cannot be ruled out.

It didn't make sense for the Big Ten to pull the plug on fall sports on Aug. 11 and the change of direction seems equally odd.

If you haven't noticed, things aren't going particularly great in college football so far. Four games were canceled last weekend due to coronavirus outbreaks. Five have already been canceled for the coming weekend.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron delivered this charming quote on Tuesday.

"Not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it, so hopefully they don't catch it again. And hopefully they're not out for games," he said.

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"Two weeks ago, we had everybody on our offensive line except two or three guys were out. We adjusted very well. You've got to make adjustments."

Meanwhile, a quick scroll of college news will turn up stories about students sent to quarantine housing, colleges canceling in-person classes and fraternities being punished for hosting parties.

Here's the biggest problem with the Big Ten's original decision: If it was too dangerous to play fall sports, it was certainly unsafe for students to return to campus.

But college administrators weren't ready to take that financial hit, so they moved forward and, as mentioned above, the problems have been widespread.


The breakthrough for football should have been keeping the players separated from the student body. Back in August, the Big Ten -- and every college conference -- should have announced that all players would take classes remotely, and moved on with the original plan. This is the formula that had a chance to work.

The Big Ten said as much in its original "open letter to the community," which included this line: "As the general student body comes back to campus, spread to student-athletes could reintroduce infection into our athletics community."

It's still comical to think back at the Big Ten's plug-pulling announcement on Aug. 11. New Commissioner Kevin Warren went on the Big Ten Network and dodged every question. Then BTN switched to an interview with former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who said the proposed spring season "will never happen."

Back in August, every Big Ten team was practicing outdoors, with few students on campus. Now they'll return to the field with classes underway and the weather getting colder.

There are plenty of unknowns about playing sports in a pandemic. But there's a right way to make important decisions.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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