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Big Ten Football In January? Wisconsin Told Parents Maybe

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It was reported yesterday that Wisconsin football parents received a briefing on a potential start in January

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 Maryland at Michigan State

While it seems half of the conference was obsessing over “vote-gate“ before it was debunked by Commissioner Warren yesterday, the conversation has seemingly moved onto rumors of rapid progress on the spring schedule front. Also, by “spring schedule,” we apparently mean more likely a January start date as Ryan Day and James Franklin have pushed for.

Per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who first broke the news, it seems that the conference is zeroing in around logistics for how to make an early January start date work for a postponed season. The Wisconsin Badgers seemed confident enough of this that the Journal Sentinel reported football parents received a briefing about it Tuesday night, and were told that the plan will utilize indoor facilities. Obviously this is both big news, and has a lot of issues left to sort out. So I will first look at some of the reported leaks on planning, some public statements, and a few of the problems that need to be sorted out and addressed.

While the Journal Sentinel was the first to break the news early Wednesday afternoon, it was the Lincoln Journal State/Fremont Tribune that got the bigger scoop listening to KLIN radio’s interview with UNL President Green. As reported in the Tribune the details list to be worked out is quite long. Starting with the schedule, figuring out the facilities, and also awaiting the early results of FDA emergency authorized saliva based tests such as the one developed by Yale.

Following the decision last week to postpone the season, a new Return to Competition Task Force was formed, and is currently trying to sort out all of those answerable details in the interim at least. Consisting of a variety of parties ranging from medical experts, to athletic directors, coaches, and senior administrators, the task force and its subgroups are tasked with figuring out the new football season. While I have not found a full list of the subgroups, they include a scheduling subgroup at least.

As for the schedule question, that is unclear. The league decided to move to a 10-game conference-only schedule for the fall, but that many games seems unlikely to be on the table at this point. Some suggestions have been made for a six-game division-only schedule, but the current talk suggests an eight-game conference-only slate based on the Journal Sentinel reporting. Presuming that to be the case, that will include two crossover games between divisions as was the case for the 2014 and 2015 seasons before moving to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016. The other goal is to play the season over a 10-week schedule that wraps up by mid-March and hold the conference championship game at the conclusion.

Now that we’ve broken down the schedule news and leaks, let’s take a look at this idea of indoor facilities. Let’s forget for a moment the fact the CDC, NCAA, and B1G guidelines and protocols all make clear that outdoor settings are the most ideal for increased air circulation to avoid SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk. Clearly a January start date throws that entire concept out the window for both games and practices. So what are programs going to do to address this most basic issue to start with? Are they going to invest huge sums of money installing needlepoint bipolar ionization technology like my own alma mater did earlier this summer (and hence how I personally have heard about it)? U.S. Defense Department testing shows it neutralizes 99.4-percent of SARS-CoV-2 in just 30 minutes, along with other harmful viruses, and this will be during peak cold and flu season. However, it also comes with a space the size of an indoor practice facility or football stadium with one hefty price tag.

So let’s set aside the question of whether the Big Ten is going to spring as a conference for a fortune in indoor air filtration systems for now. When it comes time for game days, where will they play? That becomes problematic for a 14-team conference needing a site for seven games per week. While stadium capacity is irrelevant clearly, space on the sideline for the team’s travel roster is. This will rule out most team practice facilities. Though personally I would advocate that if Northwestern’s Ryan Fieldhouse sideline is as big as it appears in photos, it should totally be the site of home games for Northwestern. Let’s be real, even in the winter, the view offered of Lake Michigan is better than an empty and barren stadium. Just ignore the lack of field goal posts. Besides, they have almost five months to figure out how to install some.

Realistic sites, however, would include Ford Field in Detroit, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, and potentially sites such as The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, and, dare I say it, the “Yooper Dome” in Marquette. Seriously, what Michigander would honestly turn down the once in a lifetime opportunity of seeing a televised game of Michigan State versus Michigan in the largest wooden dome in the world in our own upper peninsula in the Superior Dome?

No fans are allowed in the stadium realistically anyway, so how can you sit there and say you wouldn’t love to see that with an honest face? Just go call yourself an “Ohioan” if you actually object to that idea if ignoring travel factors. Out of all the ugly things 2020 has thrust upon us, absolutely nobody should thumb their nose at the idea of this setting and match-up resulting out of it. It is the one truly wonderful, beautiful thing the world could grant us in the whole messed up world we find ourselves in these days, and we should write an open letter to the Big Ten demanding it. In fact, this is what Justin Fields should have written a change.org petition for.

NHL Kraft Hockeyville USA Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

Then again, not suggested by anyone to this point, but why not throw out wild ideas like random Twitter accounts from Columbus or Lincoln throw out claims, what about just flying out west the morning of games for a match-up each day of the week in the Rose Bowl? Whether doing virtual classes or in person, what is the difference if you fly in and fly out once a week for a game anyways given how basketball teams operate and how travel operates in the fall for away games? Sure you have blizzards potentially grounding planes, but let’s figure that out when the time comes like Spirit Airlines if we have to. Well, maybe more like Delta, but I digress. Seriously though, a Big Ten matchup seemingly about every day of the week and in the Rose Bowl, what is there to object? You are welcome for the idea Big Ten, and I will be seeking a patent for it that can be bought out very cheaply. Your ratings from the conference fan bases on television will thank you.

Some of the other components that need addressed, but do not have any immediate indications for are issues such as eligibility in relation to redshirts; NFL Draft date; NFL Draft Combine; players’ capacity to opt out; incoming early-enrollee eligibility; and health and safety impacts of a winter/spring schedule, off-season training, and an ensuing impact to a fall season. We should be learning more about these issues by the end of the week, though.

Other factors outside of Big Ten decision making and control are the efficacy of the new saliva based tests, improved contract tracing, a better grasp of complications and potential long term health side effects of COVID-19, and potentially better treatments and/or a viable and accessible vaccine for COVID-19. Early indicators suggest an optimistic view of prospects for both winter sports and college football this winter with the early returns on new testing procedures. It is by no means a sure thing in this nothing but uncertain time we find ourselves in, but at least for today it seems we should hold a small hope at the prospect things may finally be trending more in the “it can happen direction” than the “a cancellation is inevitably on the horizon” direction.