My Two Cents: There's No Guarantee for Big Ten Football in Spring, Either

The Big Ten postponed the season Tuesday, but didn't cancel it. They're talking about playing the 2020 season in the spring, but there are several things that could get in the way of that happening.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — it was a devastating blow to every football player, coach and fan across the Big Ten when the league announced Tuesday it wouldn't play a fall football schedule. It was a hard right cross to the chops, to be sure.

For now, the COVID-19 pandemic has won again, and this time it won by default. The Big Ten caved, and the Pac-12 soon followed, caving even harder. (More on that in a few minutes, because that's really scary.) 

When Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren announced the decision made by the league's presidents, he said that the next football step would be to play in the spring.

But let me tell you right now — it won't work. And even though the Big Ten is dangling this little spring-time carrot to appease everyone, I won't be surprised at all if it never even happens. 

And why? Because there are so many things wrong with this.

Let me count the ways:

1. Spring games won't mean anything

Even though the Big Ten and Pac-12 are done this fall, the SEC and ACC, to paraphrase Indiana coach Tom Allen "didn't blink'' when the news came out on Tuesday. They are still going full bore to playing a season this fall, starting in late September. The Big 12 might even do the same.

If they play this fall, then there will be a playoff, too. And they will determine a national champion. That would make every Big Ten game in the spring completely meaningless. Sure, there'd be an asterisked conference title at stake, but that would be it.

That's the problem with no central organization in college football. The NCAA is a joke, because they've tried to stare down the Power 5 leagues before when it comes to football, with no luck. As long as everyone just does their own thing, there's always going to be chaos.

2. Players will bail en masse

Big Ten stars like Purdue’s Rondale Moore, Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman and Penn State’s Micah Parsons already bailed out on the fall season before it even started. They talked about concerns over COVID-19, but the reality is that they are all potential first-round NFL draft picks, so why take the risk?

As we would have gotten closer to the season, we would have seen more defections, too. Sure, I get the #WeWantToPlay hashtag, but when push came to shove, more players would have stepped away. In the spring, it will be even worse, because EVERY Big Ten player with pro aspirations isn't going to want to get hurt right before the 2021 NFL season.

That could be as many as 50 or 60 players who wouldn't play in the spring. Ohio State has a dozen guys who will play in the NFL in 2021, and they're not about to compete in the spring. That would include quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Justin Fields, I would presume, since he's a surefire top-five pick looking at a multi-million dollar contract. (And what happens to the Heisman?)

3. It's not physically possible to play two seasons

For now, the Big Ten had a 10-game conference schedule planned for 2020. There is absolutely no way you can ask a college football player — who's not being paid, by the way — to play 10-plus games in the spring and then turn around two months later and play a full 2021 schedule.

When former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was asked abut the possibility on Tuesday, he was adamant that a spring schedule wouldn't work. “No chance,'' he said. "You can’t ask a player to play two seasons in a calendar year. The body, in my strong opinion, is not made to play 2,000 competitive reps (in that time frame).”

A spring schedule shouldn't be more than six games — say a division-only schedule. That would be Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers for Indiana.

Maybe you add a seventh crossover over game so Indiana could play Purdue, but you simply can't over-do it in the spring without ruining the 2021 schedule, too. That's too much on their bodies, and it also doesn't leave any room to recover from injuries. One bad knee or shoulder injury might cost someone TWO seasons.

And please don't tell me that they play football in the spring already. You cannot compare the wear and tear on the body of real games to spring practices. It's not even close. Two seasons over eight months? That's too much to ask.

4. Players are going to want to redshirt

If you're a player, why waste a full year of eligibility on a partial season? If the Big Ten moves forward to a condensed spring season, look for all sorts of young players to want to redshirt, so they can save that year for later.

Most Big Ten schools like to redshirt their freshmen when they can, especially lineman who are better served spending that first year in the weight room getting bigger. That's definitely going to be the case in the spring. Why waste a year, especially when there are so few rewards?

This move to the spring is going to take amazing roster management. There might be some teams that really struggling to start the teams they want.

5. Midwest weather creates a problem

One of the reasons we all love Big Ten basketball so much is because the weather stinks so bad, it's nice to be inside. Trying to play a full spring football season outside is a problem, especially if you want to start too early.

I wrote a month or so ago that the average temperate in Madison, Wis., on the last day of the regular season (then Nov. 28) was 38 degrees, and the next Saturday where the average high temperature was that "warm'' again was March 13. If you started this spring season on March 13 and played seven games over a nine-week schedule, that would take you to May 19. A full schedule, 10 games over 12 weeks, takes you well into June. 

Trying to start any earlier than March 13 would be a problem outdoors. Some have floated the idea of using the domed stadiums in the Big Ten footprint (Indianapolis, Detroit, Minneapolis) as bubbles, playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders, which is reasonable. There aren't going to be fans, more than likely, so the domes would basically be glorified TV studios. But sitting outside in February or early March? No thanks.

So, what do we do?

If I had to guess, we're not going to see any Big Ten football during this school year. The SEC and ACC are going to screw them by going forward with a fall schedule. That makes those proposed spring games so meaningless.

A condensed season doesn't work, either. The players aren't going to waste that year. All pro football candidates will be watching from the sidelines, and that's really going to hurt teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and others. They will start to yell loudly about not playing at all in the spring, especially if they can't have any fans in their monstrous stadiums.

So we'll let everyone in the Big Ten offices do their song and dances for a few months, but when the time comes, I'll be shocked if we see football in the spring.

Now we can worry even more about something else — the survival of this Big Ten basketball season. The Big Ten said this postponement was for fall sports only, but then the Pac-12 threw down the first winter sports gauntlet by saying no games for any sport — including basketball — through the end of the year. Last year, Indiana played 13 games before the new year, from Nov. 5 to Dec. 29.

My head is still sore from banging it against the wall over all this football mess. No basketball — or even delayed basketball — is really going to cause a headache.

Related stories on Indiana football

  • TOM ALLEN STATEMENT: Indiana football coach Tom Allen says his heart breaks for his players after Tuesday's postponement. CLICK HERE
  • SCOTT DOLSON STATEMENT: Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson said he was "devastated'' by the Big Ten's decision, but also said it was the right call. CLICK HERE
  • LIVE BLOG: The Big Ten announces it has postponed the fall football season. The nation reacts in our live blog that covers all of the day's events. CLICK HERE
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