Players were pumped. Coaches were stoked. Fans seemed relieved. Even the president was pleased.
The Big Ten is going to give fall football a shot after all.
Less than five weeks after pushing fall sports to spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the conference ran a reverse Wednesday and said it plans to open its football season the weekend of Oct. 23-24.
“Let’s goooooo!!!” Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields tweeted.
Amid the celebration, a word of caution: This is still not going to be easy.
“For me, it wasn’t about political pressure, money or lawsuits,” Schapiro said. “It was about the unanimous opinion of our experts. It evolved over the course of weeks.”
The Big Ten will take a bow, but the conference has been battered for a month and businesses in college towns from Nebraska to Maryland have lost millions in sales. First-year Commissioner Kevin Warren was the main target, criticized for a lack of communication and not providing enough information to back the initial decision.
“We have passionate athletes. We have passionate families and we have passionate fans,” Warren said of the blowback. “And so I take that from a positive standpoint.”
The Big Ten postponed fall sports just six days after unveiling a modified, conference-only schedule that was set to begin Labor Day weekend, and indicated it would try to make up the season in the spring. But there was no plan in place and the reaction included criticisim from the president.
“I called the commissioner a couple of weeks ago and we started really putting a lot of pressure on, frankly,” Trump recalled Wednesday. “There was no reason for it not to come back.”
Trump also took aim at the lone Power Five conference not yet scheduled to play: “There is no reason why the Pac-12 shouldn’t be playing now.”
The Pac-12 followed the Big Ten in postponing play last month, but was far more detailed in its explanation and has more hurdles to clear. Half the Pac-12 schools are still operating under statewide restrictions that make it impossible for teams to even practice. The Pac-12 CEO Group is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the conference’s options.
As the Big Ten and Pac-12 bailed in August, the 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 begins play Sept. 26.
Alvarez said Big Ten teams can begin practicing immediately.
“They never lost faith. They never lost trust. Their behavior through this time has been excellent, and they never stopped fighting,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day, whose team was ranked No. 2 in the preseason Top 25.
The new schedule comes with a twist. On championship Saturday, the plan is to provide each team an additional game, matching teams by their places in the division standings: No. 2 vs. No. 2, No. 3 vs. No. 3 and so on. Alvarez said those matchups could be tweaked to avoid rematches.
For now, the third Big Ten schedule of the year should be ready in about a week. Surely, it will rekindle excitement, but how much of it gets played is still uncertain.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said she supports the Big Ten’s decision but noted COVID-19 “is still a very real threat.”
“We’re all trying to do what we can to engage in some normalcy and keep people safe,” she said. “There’s not a perfect way to do this.”