In a reversal, Big Ten restores the fall football season

The Big Ten initially postponed its football season to the spring because of the coronavirus. Now, after weeks of meetings, a lawsuit, and pressure from fans, players, and politicians, it will kick off a fall season.

Nati Harnik/AP
A hand-sanitizing station stands behind a statue of football players outside Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Sept. 15, 2020. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln had pushed back against the Big Ten's initial decision to postpone the football season.

The Big Ten is going to give fall football a shot after all.

Less than five weeks after pushing football and other fall sports to the spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the conference changed course Wednesday and said it plans to begin its season the weekend of Oct. 23-24.

Each team will play eight games in eight weeks and the conference championship game will be held Dec. 19 – if all goes well. That should give the Big Ten an opportunity to compete for the national championship.

The Big Ten said its Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously Tuesday to restart the football season. The vote last month was 11-3 to postpone, with Ohio State, Iowa, and Nebraska voting against. Other fall sports remain postponed, but the Big Ten indicated that might change.

The decision to play came after sharp pressure from coaches, players, parents, and even President Donald Trump, all of them pushing for a Big Ten football season. The conference is home to a number of battleground states in the November election, and Mr. Trump swiftly applauded the move in a tweet.

The emergence of daily rapid-response COVID-19 testing, not available when university presidents and chancellors decided to pull the plug on the season, helped trigger a re-vote. The Big Ten said it will begin daily antigen testing of its athletes, coaches, and staff on Sept. 30.

Team positivity rates and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine whether teams must halt practice or play. The earliest an athlete will be able to return to game competition would be 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.

“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,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, team physician for Ohio State.

The Big Ten will take a bow, but the conference has been battered for a month.

First-year Commissioner Kevin Warren was the main target, criticized for a lack of communication within the conference and not providing enough information to back the initial decision.

The Big Ten postponed its season on Aug. 11, indicating it would try to make up the season in the spring. But there was no plan in place.

The Pac-12 followed the Big Ten in postponing, but was far more detailed in its explanation and also had more obvious hurdles to clear. Half the Pac-12 schools are still operating under statewide restrictions that make it impossible for teams to practice.

Meanwhile, as the Big Ten and Pac-12 bailed, the three other Power Five conferences forged ahead, along with three other major college football leagues. Games have started, with the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference kicking off last week. The Southeastern Conference is scheduled to start playing games Sept. 26.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten was on the sideline, with coaches struggling to explain to players why other teams could play but they could not.

“We’re excited and we can’t wait to get started,” Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons said.

In Nebraska, eight players had filed a lawsuit against the Big Ten over its decision to postpone. Glen Snodgrass, father of one of the players, Garrett Snodgrass, was teaching a class at the Nebraska high school he works at when he received word of the reversal.

“This is what a lot of people have been fighting pretty hard for,” he said. “I can’t say enough about those eight boys and what they had the courage to do. They worked their entire lives to get where they are, and they just wanted to play.”

Nebraska was at the forefront in opposing the Big Ten’s original decision. The university had put out a joint statement from the school president, athletic director, and coach Scott Frost expressing disappointment. Mr. Frost had also suggested Nebraska might look outside the Big Ten to play games.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writers Larry Lage and Eric Olson contributed.

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