After a Summer Saga for the Ages, the Big Ten Is Back

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The Big Ten Commandments, a bizarre blockbuster production beyond even the scope of Cecil B. DeMille’s imagination, has reached its dramatic conclusion.

Thou shalt play football.

A debate of biblical bitterness is over. It was a time of great strife. Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days before he came down with the goods, the stone tablets, the decalogue. A bruised Kevin Warren has reappeared after 36 days, bearing charts and graphs and rapid-testing protocols, less a leader than a survivor.

Thou shalt not resist the loud and the angry, for they now dominate public discourse.

On Aug. 11, the first-year commissioner announced that the Big Ten was postponing its fall sports, of which only one mattered to the league’s supporters. This was hardly an outlier conclusion for the conference to reach amid a deadly pandemic—indeed, it’s the same one reached by four other FBS leagues and 28 of the 34 that play Division I college football. But it was early—too early, in hindsight—and the people were displeased.

Big Ten football logo

Thou shalt keep holy the fall schedule, for there is no College Football Playoff in the winter or spring.

On that fateful and fractious day, Warren’s explanation for calling off football season was not complete or compelling. Into that resulting vacuum of information roared the outrage of a multitude. Fans were furious. Players were crestfallen. Coaches were apoplectic. Athletic directors were moved to mutiny. University presidents ducked for cover. Parents of players were helicoptering like their children were 12 years old and had been left off the Little League all-star team.

Thou shalt honor the fathers and mothers of players, no matter how ludicrous they look vamping for the media in front of an empty conference office building.

Then here came the politicians, opportunistically motivated in an election year. None other than the president of the United States inserted himself into the drama, pandering to voters in Midwestern swing states and declaring that he’d moved the ball to the “one-yard-line” in terms of the conference reconsidering. But President Donald Trump wasn’t alone—a handful of other elected officials fired off a group letter to Warren urging a reconsidering ASAP.

Thou shalt not covet the SEC’s earlier kickoff date and longer schedule, which shall be provide more “data points” for the CFP selection committee.

And then here came the lawyers—because what would a fight this ridiculous be without them? Tom Mars filed enough Freedom of Information requests to tax every printer and copier in the league’s 11-state footprint. Some guy in Nebraska filed suit on behalf of eight players. False prophets proliferated; a Twitter rando with the handle “@SirYacht” fired off a cascade of false reports, and the Nebraska president murmured premature information into a hot microphone. The people were deceived.

Thou shalt not bear false witness, even if others do without shame or relent.

Amid the tumult and shouting came some tangible information that made the case for reconsidering and reversing the earlier decision. Advancements in rapid testing, for one, which will lead to daily antigen testing of players. A diminishing of myocarditis concerns, for another. Slowly, the arguments against playing were reduced.

Thou shalt bow down before Brutus Buckeye, because Ohio State has a talented team—and has a way of getting its way (ask the NCAA about Terrelle Pryor and the 2011 Sugar Bowl).

And now, in a resurrection that would impress Lazarus, the battered and divided Big Ten might be positioned to have the best season of any FBS conference—although the window is tight, with an Oct. 23–24 start date and a Dec. 19 championship game. While so many teams are stumbling through a viral September, the mechanics appear to be in place to start safely in October, buttressed by the daily testing. Fox, ESPN and the Big Ten Network will welcome the league with open arms and open time slots.

Thou shalt not kill the golden goose of television revenue.

Now the path out of their wilderness of incompetence and dissension is straightforward, just a bit disingenuous—everyone links arms and pretends they don’t hate each other. They say the vote to revisit and play was unanimous, even though there is no way it was (see the Rutgers president’s comments way back last week). Don’t recriminate about time lost. And prop up Warren, after suturing his back wounds from all the knives stuck in him by the membership over the previous 36 days.

Thou shalt not take the name of the commissioner in vain anymore than it already has been, and thou shalt retire the #FireKevinWarren movement on social media.

There is one other thing to do. Pray. Hit your collective knees and pray that this decision doesn’t backfire in ways either great or small. The small: virus outbreaks that cancel games and/or derail a season—and given the low thresholds established for positivity rate, that seems a probability. The great: serious illness or worse. Say that prayer for not just the Big Ten but for the sport as a whole, in every conference that is playing, as it seeks to pass through 2020 like a camel through the eye of a needle.

Thou shalt not worship false idols, not even college football.

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