Big Ten reverses course, will allow football in 2020; eight-game season to begin in October

Bill Rabinowitz
On Dec. 7, 2019, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day raised the Stagg Championship Trophy along with Buckeyes K.J. Hill Jr. (14), Binjimen Victor (9) and Chase Young (2) following the Buckeyes' win in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. The Buckeyes may get another chance raise a championship trophy this season.

Ohio State will have a 2020 football season, after all.

Reversing its decision from last month, the Big Ten Conference announced on Wednesday that it would attempt an eight-game season beginning on Oct. 24.

The announcement came after four days of intense discussion among the conference’s 14 university presidents and chancellors and the task force the league set up as it plotted a return to sports.

The Big Ten had announced on Aug. 11 that the coronavirus pandemic caused too much uncertainty and risk for a fall sports season to proceed. The vote among the 14 schools at that time was 11-3, with Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa dissenting.

After widespread criticism about the conference’s decision timing – it came only six days after the release of a conference-only schedule and nearly a month before it would have started – and a lack of transparency, first-year commissioner Kevin Warren released a statement on Aug. 19 saying that the decision would not be revisited.

But public pressure continued from players, parents and some coaches, urging the conference to reconsider. Ohio State’s parents had a rally Aug. 23 in the rotunda at Ohio Stadium that drew about 200 fans. OSU coach Ryan Day released a statement last Thursday criticizing the Big Ten’s lack of communication and arguing that a season starting in mid-October remained feasible.

Advances in COVID-19 testing also aided the cause. The Pac-12, which also voted Aug. 11 not to play this fall, reached a deal with a rapid-response COVID testing company to provide tests. Over the past weekend, Ohio State team physician Dr. James Borchers made a presentation to the task force’s steering committee about safety, presumably including the risk of myocarditis, that was reportedly effective.

The college football season began in earnest last week with teams from two other Power Five conferences – the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference – opening play. Teams from the Southeastern Conference begin playing next week.

Like other Big Ten and Pac-12 teams, Ohio State was not included in this week’s national polls. The Buckeyes had been ranked No. 2 behind Clemson in preseason polls.

Now comes the challenging job of ramping up for a season. Since mid-August, Big Ten players have been limited to 12 hours of football-related work instead of the normal 20. They haven’t been allowed to practice in pads or helmets.

“It’s hard,” Day said on WBNS-FM radio on Monday night. “That 12 hours encompasses meetings, it encompasses working in the weight room and conditioning and those types of things. So it’s not like a typical work week when we typically have 20 hours during the season.”

Day said his team hasn’t practiced in pads since preparation for the College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl in December.

That defeat ended a dream season for the previously undefeated Buckeyes. With quarterback Justin Fields and a star-studded roster returning, Day referred to his potential 2020 team as a “once-in-a-lifetime” unit.

“They’re working really, really hard so that if they do have an opportunity to play soon, they’ll be ready,” Day said.

But even with a restart, the Buckeyes did not survive with its entire team intact. In the past week, All-American guard Wyatt Davis and star cornerback Shaun Wade announced they are leaving Ohio State to begin preparing for the NFL draft.