Optimism for Big Ten football restart is growing; no vote on Sunday

It’s looking more and more likely that there will be football this fall in the

It’s looking more and more likely that there will be football this fall in the Big Ten following a Sunday meeting of Big Ten presidents and chancellors, sources with direct knowledge of the situation told the Free Press.

However, no vote was taken on a restart. Though that could happen later this week, sources said.

The sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the situation. 

The presidents and chancellors — all 14 of whom make up the ruling body of the Big Ten — heard presentations about medical advances, especially in the area of testing that have taken place since the league voted 11-3 to indefinitely delay the fall football season Aug. 11.

It’s unclear which way each university president or chancellor would lean on a restart plan. Michigan State University is currently dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that led to the county health department urging all MSU students who had been on campus to quarantine for at least two weeks. MSU is doing an online-only fall semester for undergraduates.

The University of Michigan also is dealing with issues regarding its response to COVID. Graduate student instructors and assistants are on strike and were joined by student resident hall workers. All are protesting what they say are unsafe conditions at U-M, where students were allowed to move back into residence halls for the fall semester.

It’s been an up-and-down ride for the conference since March, with its decisions around sports and COVID.

The Big Ten was among the last leagues to suspend its postseason men’s basketball tournament, first allowing fans to attend two games March 11 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. As COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization that afternoon, the conference quickly reversed course shortly after the 6 p.m. tipoff of the opener between Minnesota and Northwestern and said only teams and families would be allowed in the following day. The NCAA already had announced it planned to hold the Division I basketball tournaments and other championships in front of near-empty arenas with only athletes, coaches, immediate family and essential staff present.

A few hours later, in the March 11 nightcap, Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg fell ill on the sidelines and needed medical attention. He and his team were quarantined in the arena after the game against Indiana until it was learned Hoiberg only had a case of the flu.

On March 12, with play set to resume without fans and Michigan warming up for its game against Rutgers, the remainder of the tournament was canceled. A few hours later, the NCAA canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as well as all winter and spring championship events. Moments after that, the Big Ten halted all competition through the end of the academic year. 

Athletes didn’t return to campus until mid-June for voluntary workouts. On July 9, the Big Ten announced it would only play conference games in all fall sports, including football, and eventually released a reworked 10-game, conference-only schedule Aug. 5. That same day, a group of more than 1,000 Big Ten athletes released a unity statement that sought to empower college athletes to fight against injustices within their athletic communities and institutions. The Big Ten athletes also outlined testing protocols they wanted to see implemented. 

MSU and U-M opened preseason practice on Aug. 7, just four days before conference presidents and chancellors voted, 11-3, to indefinitely delay fall sports.

It was between that time that league leaders began to receive political heat and backlash. Sens. Anthony Gonzalez from Ohio and Ben Sasse from Nebraska were the first, with President Trump entering the foray by tweeting “Play College Football!” that afternoon.

Pressure began to grow, first as Nebraska coach Scott Frost and his university administrators publicly expressed their frustrations. Parents and players from around the conference began writing letters, picketing at Big Ten offices and hiring lawyers, with eight Cornhuskers filing a civil suit Aug. 27 in district court in Lancaster County, Nebraska.

Michigan football fan Reese Spence of Dayton, Ohio, center, march outside of the Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor to protest the postponement of the fall football season on Sept. 5, 2020.

Four days later, the White House got involved again. The Big Ten said a representative for President Trump reached out to Warren on Aug. 31, and the two spoke a day later.

Trump later tweeted, “Had a very productive conversation with Kevin Warren, Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, about immediately starting up Big Ten football. Would be good (great!) for everyone – Players, Fans, Country. On the one yard line!”

That tweet forced the Big Ten to issue the following statement: “On Tuesday, September 1, 2020, Commissioner Warren and the President had a productive conversation. The Big Ten Conference and its Return to Competition Task Force, on behalf of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C), are exhausting every resource to help student athletes get back to playing the sports they love, at the appropriate time, in the safest and healthiest way possible.”

Acrimony continued to grow. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, his staff, his players and their parents marched on Sept. 5 on what would have been the opening weekend of the conference season. Others did the same elsewhere.

On Tuesday, a group of 10 Republican lawmakers from six states — including Michigan Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate majority leader Mike Shirkey (R-Jackson) — sent a letter to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and the 14 university presidents to reconsider its delay of college football.

The league office responded Wednesday, saying “we all want the same thing, which is for ‘sports to continue safely,’” and that the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors were continuing to “identify opportunities to resume competition as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Then Thursday, Ohio State coach Ryan Day openly questioned Warren and the Big Ten presidents on Twitter. That night in Freeland, President Trump during a rally at the MBS Airport continued to press the conference, saying, “Let’s play Big Ten football.”

Contact Chris Solari: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Optimism for Big Ten football restart is growing; no vote on Sunday

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