For The Big Ten, At Least It's A Plan

John Bohnenkamp

Well, it's something.

Something, of course, is better than nothing. And that "nothing" is still lurking out there, or maybe that "something" gets delayed.

The Big Ten's decision that it would be conference-only for its fall sports schedule in 2020 wasn't really a surprise.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us. Cases are rising around the nation. We don't know what all of this is going to look like in the next couple of weeks, or months.

The Big Ten's announcement on Thursday came with a warning — all of this is contingent on medical advice. The conference has its Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Sports Medicine Committee, which have been involved in this decision. There will be CDC guidelines, federal guidelines, state guidelines.

Anything can put a stop to this season, even up to the last minute. And if you're not prepared for that by now, even after the last few months...

But at least it's a plan.

Other conferences are expected to follow in the coming days, which is the way it was back in March when first the conference basketball tournaments, and then the NCAA tournaments, and then the entire spring seasons were canceled.

This Thursday kind of felt like that Thursday. The only difference was there was at least some sort of plan for proceeding.

By playing just conference games, the Big Ten controls the protocols for testing. Testing for Iowa will be the same as testing at Rutgers, or Michigan, or Penn State. It's a quality control that the conference wouldn't get for nonconference opponents.

It also limits travel. It's not a problem for Iowa, which had all three of its nonconference home games scrapped. Ohio State was scheduled to play at Oregon. Michigan was at Washington.

But we'll get no Iowa-Iowa State game. No opener between the Hawkeyes and Northern Iowa. 

We still don't know the specifics of what the football schedule will look like for Iowa and the rest of the conference. The likely schedule would be five home games and five road games.

There will still be a financial hit to the athletic departments. Whether the TV payout will remain the same is questionable. And there's still the question of how many fans, if any, will be allowed in stadiums this season.

A conference-only schedule also sets the base for a spring season if it's needed in place of a fall schedule. There was no way there would have been a full 12-game season in the spring, followed by another 12-game season in the fall.

Pessimism, of course, raged after the Big Ten announcement.

"We’re not in a good place," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said about having fans at games this fall. "I would have a hard time doing something different than the CDC guidelines, if we’re able to have fans in the stands. Two months ago I was cautiously optimistic, but I’ve lost that."

The Big Ten's plan is, at least, something moving forward. Something is better than nothing.

Just as long as we remember that the "nothing" is still lurking around the corner.