If it had all gone according to plan, the Big Ten would not have faced an avalanche of criticism in wake of its announcement Aug. 11 to postpone the 2020 fall sports season. And the presidents did expect it to all go according to plan, multiple sources have shared with WolverineDigest.com
"I don't want to call it arrogance but there was a surprising lack of awareness from the presidents that there would be such significant pushback when they voted to postpone the 2020 season," a source in Big Ten HQ shared. "I think you also have [Commissioner] Kevin Warren who is so eager to please his bosses still early in his tenure that he just sort of went along with them, without really being an advocate for the athletic directors and the football programs.
"It was like he didn't know where his loyalties lie - is it with the presidents or is it with the ADs, coaches and players? In theory, all of those entities should be pulling in the same direction but there was, as we've all seen, incredible disconnect between the philosophies of the presidents and that of their coaches and athletes and, in some cases, athletic directors."
While there wasn't a uniformed agreement between Power 5 power-brokers, our sources both in Chicago and Ann Arbor said the expectation was that once the Big Ten made its announcement, the Pac 12 would immediately follow (as it did) and then the ACC would follow suit too, putting tremendous pressure on the SEC and Big 12. The Big 12 would go next, and then the SEC, with nothing left to play for, would reluctantly give in.
So why the ACC third? Because many of the universities within the conference are esteemed educational schools, led by the same academic minds that populate the Big Ten. Particularly Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia Tech and even Florida State (surprisingly, the No. 18 public university nationally) were supposed to be in lockstep with the Big Ten and wield enough power to force the entire ACC into following the Big Ten's lead.
That didn't happen. And if you're looking for another reason to hate Notre Dame, now you have it.
"Notre Dame really wanted to play and was willing to enter into an agreement that could lead to something down the road ... at the very least, more games every year against ACC teams," an insider shared. "They're adamance about playing was the ace-in-the-hole a group, led by Clemson, needed to really push for a season and turn the tide in favor of ignoring the Big Ten.
"I mean, if Notre Dame, with their academic reputation and their national brand, was willing to go forward ... it sort of just sealed the ACC's fate."
While the ACC and the SEC were not entirely on the same page (look at how they had different approaches to non-conference contests), they each provided the other with enough cover to plot out a season. The Big 12, and most prominently Texas, which didn't want to lose ground to the SEC powers while already trying to play catch-up, pushed forward too.
Suddenly, the Big Ten found itself mocked by the SEC, ACC and Big 12, while the internal anger has boiled up to levels unprepared for.
"There were so many missteps along this process, but I'd say, by far, the biggest miscalculation was believing there wouldn't be upheaval within their own programs and fan bases," a Michigan source shared. "There was an arrogance that our presidents and institutions would come out on the high ground, believing they'd look like heroes for putting student-athletes above football.
"There is a feeling that the 'football-is-life' culture of the SEC is to be scorned, not celebrated, but what's become evident is that our leaders severely misjudged the Big Ten culture as it relates to football."
So will that culture win out in the end? There have been lots of rumblings the Big Ten might move its proposed winter season to late fall, watching with anticipation to see how football unfolds in the SEC, ACC and Big 12, and that if they can successfully navigate the medical issues, the Big Ten could launch a season in November. Our sources are not convinced.
"I don't think the leadership is strong enough at the top to get everyone pulling in the same direction in order to make that happen," one of our sources said. "Even now, getting everyone on board for a winter season is a challenge. It helps that Ohio State and Wisconsin and Nebraska are all pushing for it, but it's not yet unanimous that there has to be a Big Ten season.
"There are some holdouts."
Interestingly, sources in Ann Arbor, in Columbus, Lincoln, Madison, East Lansing and State College all believe that if the Big Ten vote was held today instead of 14 days ago, the conference would not have voted to postpone the season outright. The league might have announced it was moving the season back to late September but the din from players, coaches, fans, the media and (most importantly) big-money donors has created cracks.
"We've already seen a university like Nebraska, which from top-down took issue with postponing the season but eventually gave in, and now there are five, six, seven universities on any given day that would have voted differently if the vote was being held two weeks later.
"The whole thing has been a PR nightmare for Big Ten schools just as they're re-opening their campuses and while all of them are in spending freezes. The last thing you want to do is give your big donors a reason to pause on their contributions and they've done that because a number of donors, at least speaking to this from the Michigan side, are heavily tied to Jim Harbaugh and are unhappy with the way the players and coaches were blindsided.
"Even if they might agree with the sentiment to postpone for the health of the student-athletes and staff, a number of significant contributors really think it was handled poorly, and that the players and coaches were treated unfairly.
"I think someone like [Michigan President] Mark Schlissel really underestimated the clout of the athletic program at Michigan. He's not a 'football guy' and might be the only person on campus that doesn't answer to Jim Harbaugh, but there are donors that give millions and tens of millions to U-M and many of those prominent donors didn't do so without first talking to Bo or Lloyd or now, Jim."
Though he came out with a pair of powerful statements before and after the fall season was officially postponed, Harbaugh has been relatively quiet since. He's not Urban Meyer or Scott Frost.
In the words of a family friend, "he's done talking. He'll let Warde Manuel argue his case now. He won't politick. He has too much respect for the University of Michigan and for the office of the president to rally behind Schlissel's back. But make no mistake, he's a football coach that wants to play ASAP, and Warde will be pushing to make that happen."