What You Need To Know: Big Ten Returns
Big Ten football programs and their fans can rejoice. Football is back!
On Wednesday morning, the Big Ten Conference announced that it would return to play the weekend of Oct. 23-24, after initially deciding to cancel all fall sports back on Aug. 11 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a morning press release, it was revealed that the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) voted unanimously to resume the season after adopting "significant medical protocols including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition."
According to reports, the season will include an 8-game schedule for each Big Ten squad, plus an additional "Champions Week" game for each team.
Fans will not be allowed to purchase tickets to the games, although the schools and conference are investigating how to let families attend.
FOX Sports' Urban Meyer reacted to the news immediately after it was announced, sharing his joy that Big Ten football was back and crediting the players.
According to the Wednesday press release, the Big Ten will begin daily testing on Sept. 30, with a focus on heart health at the forefront of its medical protocols.
All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI. Following cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.
In addition to the medical protocols approved, the 14 Big Ten institutions will establish a cardiac registry in an effort to examine the effects on COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The registry and associated data will attempt to answer many of the unknowns regarding the cardiac manifestations in COVID-19 positive elite athletes.
Reaction to the news was swift and positive, including from Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, one of the most outspoken advocates of returning to play in the Big Ten.
Even President Trump weighed in on the news Wednesday morning.
On Aug. 11, the Big Ten became the first of the Power 5 conferences to cancel its fall football season, followed by the Pac-12.
The ACC, Big 12 and SEC decided to continue with their seasons, and both the ACC and Big 12 started their seasons this past weekend, with the SEC set to begin play the weekend of Sept. 26.
Entering the season, the Big Ten had six teams ranked in the Top 25: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 7 Penn State, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 16 Michigan, No. 19 Minnesota and No. 24 Iowa.
With the league's return and the reintroduction of teams such as Ohio State and Penn State into the rankings, there is the possibility for a more balanced College Football Playoff race.
The eight-game season in eight weeks with the late October start date would allow for the the Big Ten to cap the season and name a conference champion in time to be considered for a semifinal spot in the CFP.
However, the conference's eligibility must be approved by the playoff's management committee. All 10 of the FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick will have to vote on whether the Big Ten can participate in the CFP.
With the top teams back in the mix, it could be argued that an asterisk free-champion could be crowned, as only three PAC-12 teams (Oregon, USC and Utah) were included in the AP Poll Top 25 preseason rankings, and Oregon was the only team in the Top 10.
And as these Big Ten teams announced their return to play, so did their players who initially decided to opt out of the season.
If player opted out, but had not declared an agent, that athlete preserved their eligibility and scholarship, and would be allowed to return. In August following the announcement of the postponement of the season, the NCAA released a statement:
Michigan State redshirt freshman linebacker Marcel Lewis, who on Aug. 8 decided to sit out the season, reversed course on Wednesday. He released a statement on Twitter:
Lewis was one of four Michigan State players to opt out of the season, as well as DE Jacub Panasiuk, OL Jordan Reid and OL Justin Stevens, but there has been no word on any status change regarding the other players.
This is a developing story.