ROSEMONT, Ill. (NewsNation Now) — Big Ten is going to give fall football a shot after all.
Less than five weeks after pushing football and other fall sports to 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. 24.
Each team will have an eight-game schedule 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 sports. The vote last month was 11-3 to postpone, with Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska voting against.
Does that mean it’s suddenly safe from COVID-19? Not at all. But in announcing their unanimous decision, league officials expressed confidence in science and their plan to use it.
“I mean, I think the biggest thing we all have to realize is this is a fluid situation,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “We always wanted to make sure that we put the health and safety of our student athletes at the forefront of our decisions.”
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.
“We’re excited and we can’t wait to get started,” Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons said.
The three other Power Five conferences have 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.
The Pac-12, which followed the Big Ten in postponing in August, recently announced a partnership with a diagnostic lab that will give the conference’s schools the capacity to test athletes daily.
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 York (Nebraska) High School 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. Frost had also suggested Nebraska might look outside the Big Ten to play games.
Since the league canceled the 2020 season last month, it’s been under mounting pressure from parents, players, and coaching staff to bring it back.
President Trump has regularly weighed-in, both at campaign rallies and on social media, and took a victory lap shortly after the news broke.
The Big Ten gave no indication that the president had played any role in the decision. On background, college officials stressed they had tried to keep politics out of it, focusing on whether they could start the season safely.
There’s real concern about that. Penn State is in the middle of a COVID spike. 458 new cases were reported at the State College campus Tuesday, as head coach James Franklin promised every effort to protect players.
“And my players wanted to play based on all of the health and welfare policies we had in place,” Franklin said. “So at that point, I wanted to advocate for our players to go out and compete and chase dreams and do the things they love.”
AP Sports Writers Larry Lage and Eric Olson contributed.