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Will Big Ten presidents reverse course? They meet Sunday, then might vote on return of football

Joey Kaufman
jkaufman@dispatch.com
Graham Fleck, 11, of Grove City holds a sign during a rally organized by parents of Ohio State football players outside the rotunda of Ohio Stadium on Aug. 29.

A potential vote by the Big Ten’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors on Sunday over restarting the conference’s football season comes down to this: Will six presidents or chancellors change their minds?

Thirty-three days ago, the council voted 11-3 in favor of scrapping games for this fall, citing concerns stemming from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Ohio State was joined by Iowa and Nebraska in dissent, the programs pushing to play alongside three of the other Power Five conferences starting this month.

Rather than requiring a simple majority, the bylaws of the Big Ten state that 60 percent of the presidents and chancellors must be in support of playing a season, a threshold requiring at least nine to vote yes on restarting.

Whether enough of them are swayed by presentations from the league’s return to competition task force and medical subcommittee, won’t be known until at least Sunday afternoon, when the council was expected to convene.

National media reports said a vote on a possible return could after the meeting or in the coming days.

The range of possible dates for a start to a season have varied for weeks, involving openings around Thanksgiving weekend or later in the winter.

But some of the most prominent coaches in the conference have pushed for a start next month.

Appearing on ESPN’s “College GameDay” program on Saturday, Ohio State coach Ryan Day said a mid-October kickoff would allow his team to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

The playoff's selection committee is scheduled to select four teams for the postseason on Dec. 20.

As many as 10 conference games could be played between Oct. 17 and Dec. 19. That would not include possible idle weeks to hold rescheduled games or a conference championship game. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Sunday morning that Oct. 17 is a target date.

Led by star quarterback Justin Fields, the Buckeyes were primed to compete for a national championship this season and debuted at No. 2 in the preseason polls.

“But first things first, let's just make sure that we figure out a way to do this safely, then we'll tackle that next,” Day said, when discussing the playoff race during his ESPN appearance.

As the 2020 college football season moved forward Saturday, with games beginning in the Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences, there has been some optimism within the sport because of testing advancements.

The Big 12 and Pac-12 have both recently announced partnerships with Quidel to provide rapid daily coronavirus testing for their member schools.

Before calling off the season on Aug. 11, the Big Ten had planned to test athletes only at least twice per week. Without daily testing available, some infectious disease experts raised the possibility of positive cases being missed by team medical personnel.

Clusters of cases on teams have already prompted the postponement of games, which could lead to a disjointed season.

Two Big 12 games that had been scheduled for last week, Baylor versus Louisiana Tech and Texas Christian versus Southern Methodist, were pushed back, as was as an ACC matchup for next Saturday between Virginia and Virginia Tech for COVID-19-related issues. It was the second postponement for Virginia Tech.

If the Big Ten adopts plans to play, it will not be without challenges that extend beyond testing.

Not all of the conference’s teams are going through the 12-hour work weeks that are currently permitted by the NCAA for idle teams, including five hours for non-contact practices.

Maryland and Wisconsin paused football workouts this month due to case numbers. Unable to practice, it’s unclear how soon they will be ready to open preseason training camp and ramp up to a kickoff.

Public health officials have also encouraged Michigan State students living in East Lansing to self-quarantine because of a spike in cases in the area.

But a decision of some sort from the Big Ten in the coming days might ultimately calm some of the concerns of parents and players who have been frustrated by the lack of a clear road map for a rescheduled 2020 season.

Parents of players at Michigan and Ohio State organized protests in previous weekends over the postponement.

As much as many of them remained frustration by the initial decision, they called for increased communication between the league office and teams for plans under discussion and consideration.

Their demonstration have been accompanied by political pressure, including from President Donald Trump, who spoke with commissioner Kevin Warren earlier this month and called on the Big Ten to play football this fall during repeated campaign stops, including in Saginaw, Michigan, on Thursday.

A group of Midwestern state lawmakers, including Ohio Senate Majority Leader Matt Huffman, also sent a letter to the conference last week, urging it to reconsider its decision.

While waiting on another decision from the Big Ten on Sunday, Fields continued to make his case on social media, weeks after starting an online petition that generated more than 300,000 signatures.

“To my Big 10 brothers, do not be discouraged,” Fields tweeted, “trust the process and make your voice heard. Let them know #WeWantToPlay.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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