A lot has changed since the Big Ten voted 11-3 to cancel the 2020 college football season (and other fall sports) Aug. 11. Players and coaches united behind #WeWantToPay and #WeWantToCoach, Nebraska threatened to leave the Big Ten, then backtracked, but now a group of eight Cornhusker players are suing the Big Ten (and getting results - the lawsuit forcing the conference to share "more information and documents regarding the 'vote' as well as documents related to the decision-making process").
Parents have held rallies and are staging more, including one at Michigan Stadium this Saturday. The media has largely vilified the Big Ten, not necessarily for its decision but for its lack of transparency and deciding to act so quickly when simply pushing the season back a few weeks, from Sept. 5 to Sept. 26, could have been a far more viable outcome.
Most recently, the President of the United States reached out to Commissioner Kevin Warren, pressing the Big Ten's boss to do everything necessary to get Big Ten football playing as soon as possible.
Perhaps most damning has been a number of medical experts that have come out maligning the reported study the Big Ten used linking COVID-19 to myocarditis, with medical professionals arguing that there is simply too little conclusive research to decidedly cancel college football.
However, on the flip side, the lack of evidence that COVID-19 can be contracted without long-term effects is one of the strongest arguments for preaching caution. While healthy young adults may not be dying from the coronavirus, we do not yet know all of the possible physical consequences, and those lingering health issues, multiple sources contend, is what had the Big Ten shutting down in the first place (whether out of genuine concern for its student-athletes or the threat of lawsuits is a matter of debate).
Over the last few weeks, the league's athletic directors and coaches have been rallying together to speed up the process for when Big Ten football would return. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm outlined a detailed plan for a winter season to be held in indoor pro venues - and with the ability to then play another fall season in 2021. That plan accelerated to talk of a Thanksgiving start, which would allow for at least a few games to be played in home stadiums before the weather gets too cold.
In the most dramatic timeline, reports have surfaced that the Big Ten could be looking to restart as early as Oct. 10, however it is important to remember that charge has been led by the ADs and coaches -- and their medical experts - and not by the presidents and chancellors.
And while both the Nebraska and Ohio State presidents have recently given public remarks about bringing football back sooner than 2021, they were original members that voted against cancelling the season back on Aug. 11.
Do they have seven colleagues willing to vote in favor of college football returning ASAP, giving the Big Ten a 60% majority? We still don't believe it. In fact, one of our strong sources believes the vote that could take place in the next 48 hours has a very different motivation - the Nebraska lawsuit.
"I truly believe this vote is being done to placate two parties: certainly the conference's ADs and coaches, who have worked together to produce medical experts arguing it is at least justifiable to proceed with a season under careful eye; and the lawsuit.
"Admittedly, the Big Ten does not want its previous meeting from early August released publicly but if they hold another meeting and vote the same, even if it comes down to 10-4 or 9-5, they can get their house in order and provide documentation, testimony and a roll call to the public that should make this lawsuit go away because of the level of transparency undertaken."
The best hope for those hoping for a return to action in October is for six defectors or three more from the original trio of Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa, but again, there is a very important aspect to this - what are they voting on?
As we noted two days ago, if the vote is "Do you agree with rescinding our previous vote on cancelling the fall sports season?" they need nine votes. If the vote is "Do you vote to cancel the fall season?" then they only need six to vote no.
However, one source at Big Ten HQ doesn't believe it can be the latter because that vote has already taken place (sort of like double jeopardy in our legal system) and instead the vote must look something like the former.
Never say never, but the language in this case will go a long way towards determining when football returns.
We don't believe the ADs/coaches/players have the votes if it's rescinding the previous vote. If it's a complete redo, there is a stronger possibility with at least one West and one East division president, we've been told, willing to defect.
Is there a sixth? If there is, that president/chancellor's vote would be a shock to the contingent decidedly against rushing back.
As for what we think is most likely, we still believe that the Big Ten's "return to play" committee would like a few weeks of college games to study and then a 14-day incubation period for which the virus can spread to get a better read on outbreaks.
That puts a more informed decision coming late September, with the earliest chance for football Oct. 17, 24th or 31st. A mid-October start date could allow for Big Ten teams to factor into the college playoff. Anything later and it's difficult to see unless the NCAA would agree to push back the playoffs to mid-January (a scenario we have heard discussed).