Thirty-six days after initially voting to cancel the fall football season, Big Ten presidents elected Wednesday to reinstate the season by a unanimous vote. Michigan president Mark Schlissel was among those to vote against the season originally who switched his decision.
The season will start on the weekend of Oct. 24, giving teams just over a month to prepare. Yahoo! Sports was the first to report the news. Earlier this fall, Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said the Wolverines could be ready within two weeks of padded practices. To this point, they have been practicing 20 hours a week without pads, in line with conference regulations.
The timing will allow the conference to send teams to the College Football Playoff, which will be released on Dec. 20 and begin Jan. 1.
“The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) adopted significant medical protocols including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition,” the conference said in a press release. “The COP/C voted unanimously to resume the football season starting the weekend of October 23-24, 2020. The decision was based on information presented by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force, a working group that was established by the COP/C and Commissioner Kevin Warren to ensure a collaborative and transparent process.”
The decision is largely based in new testing possibilities that will allow the conference to perform daily rapid testing. A player who tests positive for COVID-19 will have to sit out of competition for at least 21 days and until he is cleared by a cardiologist, in order to address concerns over myocarditis, the heart disease that can be developed as a long-term effect of COVID-19.
The Big Ten’s change comes after weeks of discontent among players, coaches, parents and fans. Last month, a group of Big Ten players’ parents protested outside the conferences offices in Rosemont, Ill. In Ann Arbor, the group Wolverine Football Parents organized a protest at Michigan Stadium on the date of Michigan’s scheduled opener on Sept. 5.
“Well, I mean, would have rather been coming to a game than a rally,” Jim Harbaugh said at that rally. “But, it definitely hits you. We should’ve been playing a game today.”
The message echoed that of his brother, John, the Baltimore Ravens’ head coach, who said, “Free the Big Ten” two days earlier. Meanwhile, on social media, Wolverines’ players have circulated the hashtag #WeWantToPlay with coaches posting #WeWantToCoach.
Now, they’re getting their wish.
“Great news today,” Harbaugh said in a statement Wednesday. “Over the past month, I could sense the anticipation from our players and coaches, and I’m thrilled on their behalf that they will have a chance to play a 2020 season. Stay positive. Test negative. Let’s play football.”
“Earlier I expressed my concern, shared by my fellow Big Ten presidents and chancellors, that we just didn’t know enough about the health and safety concerns unique to intercollegiate athletics to move forward with practices and competition,” Michigan president Mark Schlissel said in a statement.
“As has been so true during this pandemic, we continue to learn more every day and we have adjusted our approach based on the new information that was developed. I especially want to thank the health and safety officials from the Big Ten campuses who have carefully assessed the risk and developed a stringent plan – that will include daily COVID-19 testing – to mitigate those risks for our student-athletes, coaches and others. While this approach will start with football, our hope is to use this same approach to resume competition in other sports.”
Michigan’s own testing numbers are what Harbaugh and other advocates have pointed to repeatedly in arguing for a return to play. According to the last update from the athletic department, Michigan had 12 positive test results last week with 904 tests administered.
That has come as conferences across the country have seen games canceled due to outbreaks. On Saturday, Virginia and Virginia Tech canceled their opener, scheduled for Sept. 19, due to an increase in cases at Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, Baylor’s opener against Louisiana Tech this weekend was canceled due to an outbreak at Louisiana Tech.
At Michigan, though, the school claims such an outbreak has thus far been avoided, even as at least 342 positive and counting cases have been linked to Michigan State, which moved classes online before the school year began. Similarly, Wisconsin football practices are on hold for two weeks after the school moved all classes online.
But as of Wednesday morning, the Big Ten is forging on with its plans to return to football, ending weeks of seesawing speculation.