Big Ten Football Finally Gets It Right
Big Ten Presidents to Big Ten Coaches: You’ve Been Called
The game of high-stakes poker between Big Ten players, player families, and coaches aligned against university presidents has played out publicly – and often embarrassingly – since the August 11th postponement. One of the trump cards the #LetThemPlay crowd has often played is the positive testing numbers at places like Michigan. Jim Harbaugh himself released to the public the full details of Michigan’s testing success right as the debate raged nationwide, before the Big Ten presidents’ cancellation.
Well, with this return to play plan you can almost hear those same presidents respond with a “put up or shut up.” Because the strict testing metrics the league will demand will require football programs to maintain those stellar results if they want to continue to play. A single positive test faces up to a 21-day quarantine for a player, which is twice the time currently recommended by CDC, and would remove that player from a good chunk of the schedule if it occurs after the regular season begins.
Furthermore, teams will have to keep their rosters below 5% positive every single day to avoid an automatic one-week shutdown. Coaches like Harbaugh were adamant their programs were up to the task, and with these standards the presidents have put the onus on them to live up to that vow.
To that end, don’t be surprised to see coaches run a tight-ship roster-wise. For the more people you allow into the football building, the more your football team is exposed. And you don’t want your starting quarterback quarantined for three games because the walk-on fourth-string backup has Covid-19.
Big Ten Testing Mechanism Could Prevent Waves of Shutdowns/Cancellations
If the Big Ten’s original schedule was praised for its flexibility assuming the looming likelihood of shutdowns and cancellations, this new one has raised concerns about its lack thereof. The league is now hoping to have its teams play nine games in nine consecutive weeks, which is no small task given we’ve seen about 14% of games postponed or cancelled already this season.
However, the main culprit in many of those interruptions hasn’t been positive tests as much as waves of players forced to quarantine/sit out because of contact tracing. Meaning, once a player(s) tests positive, a school then begins retracing his steps since his last negative test to isolate all those he may have come into contact with to prevent an outbreak.
Now that teams are in camp or in-season, a lot of the people a positive player has come into contact with are going to be on his own team. For example, Tennessee made national news for cancelling a scrimmage two weeks ago because it had so many players out due to Covid-19. Yet of the 44 Volunteers were who unavailable to scrimmage, Coach Jeremy Pruitt said 82% of them were because of contact tracing—not positive tests.
Thankfully, the daily testing the Big Ten has lined up should help avoid sitting masses of players while contact tracing sorts things out. Daily now you’re going to know every player’s status before entering the facility, like what happens in the NFL, as opposed to two-three days per week before. In addition, the antigen testing the Big Ten will deploy could conceivably identify an infection before that player becomes contagious, which could further prevent outbreaks from shutting down teams in-season.
Big Ten Scheduling Genius
The “8+1 Model” unveiled by the Big Ten is genius on multiple levels. First, after losing an entire month of exposure while others are playing, the league will have all of its teams playing the most important weekend of the season – championship weekend – while most other programs not in title games are dormant.
Next, it helps recoup some of the television revenue lost by already playing a shortened season.
Third, recall that Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez, who presided over the scheduling subcommittee, was also on the College Football Playoff Committee in 2016 and 2017. Back when Ohio State and then Alabama each made it without even winning their respective divisions, let alone conferences. Let’s say Penn State’s only loss is to Ohio State and the Nittany Lions finish 8-1. Normally, they’d be sitting out and unable to bolster their case for a bid that final weekend before the choice is made. But now they’re going to be playing a likely ranked team that finished second in the West Division instead, and a win in that game would boost their playoff resume.
Finally, this could serve as a default bowl game depending on what’s determined about the safety of the postseason beyond the playoff.
Take A Bow – You Did This
There’s usually the right reason and then the real reason those in power make the decisions they do in controversial situations. Sure, the right reason for the Big Ten’s reversal is the advances in testing since the August 11th postponement. Except as I previously wrote, those advances were already in place back on August 30th. The Pac-12 announced its rapid-fire antigen testing program two weeks ago. So it’s not like this stuff just fell into the Big Ten’s lap a few days ago and the powers-that-be pounced at the opportunity to right a wrong.
The real reason this all happened is because of many of you reading this refused to take no for an answer. Players, player families, coaches, media advocates, prominent alumni, and fans used their combined platforms to put unprecedented pressure on the Big Ten presidents. And then a lawsuit by Nebraska players and threatened legal action from two state attorneys general dialed it up all the more.
These presidents are not used to this level of scrutiny, and were unprepared for it. Nor were they prepared for how public perception would change once we started seeing other teams playing games that weren’t mass casualty events. Of course, leaders are rarely going to acknowledge they bowed to public pressure – but we know the truth. Give yourselves a helmet sticker!