Game On. Big Ten announces it will  open 9-game season on Oct. 23/24

Herb Gould

Game on. The Big Ten has decided to play a football season that will begin on Oct. 23 and 24, the conference announced Wednesday morning.

School officials approved an eight-game schedule, followed by a Dec. 19 championship game that will allow Big Ten teams to be considered for the College Football Playoff.

In addition, the runners-up from the East and West divisions also will play on Dec. 18 and 19. Second-place vs. Second-place all the way down to seventh-place vs. seventh-place. And so, each team will play nine games. 

If necessary, those matchups are likely to be adjusted to avoid rematches, said Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who is overseeing schedule arrangements.

Spectators will not be permitted at the games. Family members may be allowed inside stadiums.

With the Big Ten joining the ACC, Big 12 and SEC on the field, the Pac-12 would be the only Power 5 conference that does not play football this fall. The West Coast conference is not expected to reverse its decision to sit out. Pandemic restrictions barring practice in California and Oregon are a virtually impossible hurdle.

Why did the Big Ten reverse its Aug. 11 decision to cancel football?

Testing advances were the key, according to Dr. Jim Borchers, Ohio State's head team physician and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee.

“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” Borchers said. “The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities.”

Conference officials were under intense pressure from coaches, players, players’ families, politicians, boosters and fans who wondered why other conferences could play but not the Big Ten. Also at stake: Tens of millions of dollars in television revenue.

What changed to allow the reversal?

Clearly, the conference’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors became convinced by the advances in rapid antigen testing that will allow for daily testing.

While the Oct. 24 start allows no open dates to make up postponements, rapid testing greatly diminishes the prospect of postponements. Players who test positive will be isolated, allowing players who are negative to continue without previous concerns about spreading the virus.

Also, new information on myocarditis screening persuaded the presidents and chancellors that the league can identify and greatly reduce the threat of Covid-related heart issues. Dr.  Borchers was the key presenter of the medical advances that swayed the decision to play.

Now all the debates can begin...about the chances the conference can play an eight-game season without postponements, about what happens if there are postponements, how to evaluate Big Ten resumes for the playoff—and myriad other arguments that are the bedrock of college football.

Here’s one: If postponements in other conferences lead to outright cancellations, will that level the playoff-resume playing field? If not, how does a seven-game resume stack up against a 10-game resume?

Here’s another: How will key players who have opted out at Ohio State and Penn State, for example, impact the Buckeyes’ and Nittany Lions’ national-championship designs? Will those players opt back in?

Let the games and the arguments begin.