Will there be Big Ten football this fall?
That depends on who you ask and when you ask them.
Developments Monday didn’t paint an optimistic picture of football — or any fall sport — being played in the Big Ten because of the coronavirus pandemic, though the conference had made no announcement on Monday. Some Big Ten coaches, led by Nebraska’s Scott Frost, were pushing hard for a fall season to go on as scheduled.
The Detroit Free Press, citing multiple unidentified sources with knowledge of the decision, on Monday morning reported that conference presidents voted to cancel the 2020 football season and said an announcement is expected Tuesday. The report went as far to say the vote was 12-2 in favor of canceling the season. Dan Patrick, on his Fox Sports Radio show, said Iowa and Nebraska were the only votes in favor of playing this fall.
Not so fast, a Big Ten spokesperson indicated Monday afternoon, texting reporters that no vote had been taken regarding a decision on fall sports.
The Free Press reported that Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren prefers to have a spring football season in 2021.
Big Ten coaches began to comment in favor of playing in the fall, with Frost saying in an afternoon news conference: “I ask [players] to fight for us all the time. Sometimes, the head coach’s responsibility is to fight for what they want, too. Our football players want to play, the coaches want to coach.”
Frost added he is prepared to play even if the Big Ten cancels the fall season. “We want to play a Big Ten schedule. I hope that’s what happens,” he said. “Our university’s committed to playing, no matter what, no matter what that looks like or how that looks. We want to play no matter who it is or where it is, so we’ll see how those chips fall. We certainly hope it’s in the Big Ten. If it isn’t, I think we’re prepared to look for other options.”
Ohio State’s Ryan Day, who urged Big Ten presidents not to cancel the fall season, also wouldn’t rule out playing this fall in a different conference. “We need to look at every option,” he said in an ESPN interview. “And if that’s the only option at the time, we need to explore it.”
Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Penn State’s James Franklin also made statements that urged playing football this fall.
Asked to comment on the issue, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel referred all inquiries to Big Ten officials. An athletic department spokesman, citing the rapidly changing developments, said athletic director Mark Coyle and football coach P.J. Fleck were not available to comment.
The financial impact of not having fall sports would be major. The Gophers athletic department estimated that a fall without sports would result in $75 million of lost revenue. Chief Financial Officer Rhonda McFarland told the Board of Regents in May: “There are only a handful of athletic departments that could manage a $30 million loss. And likely very few that would survive a $75 million reduction in revenue.”
Over the past six days, the landscape of major college football, especially the Big Ten, has shifted.
• On Wednesday, the Big Ten and other conferences announced their adjusted football schedules for this fall. However, Warren said: “It’s a fluid situation. There’s no guarantee that we will have fall sports or football season.”
• On Friday, Big Ten training camps opened, including Minnesota’s. “What I want them to do is focus on now, mentally, emotionally. Now,” Fleck said of his players. “… This virus is so humbling, and each day, there’s more and more knowledge, that if you start thinking three, four weeks ahead, it’s going to blow your mind.”
• On Saturday, the Mid-American Conference became the first Football Bowl Subdivision league to cancel its fall football season. The Big Ten also announced that teams could not begin full-padded practices until further notice.
• On Sunday, reports started to develop that the Big Ten was on the verge of canceling football in the fall. Led by prominent players such as Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, the #WeAreUnited and #WeWantToPlay movements joined forces and released a statement in favor of playing this fall and arguing for rights they want addressed.
• On Monday, President Donald Trump weighed in, retweeting Lawrence’s statement and adding, “The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be canceled. #WeWantToPlay.”
Later in the day, the Mountain West Conference became the second FBS league to announce it won’t play football this fall. Old Dominion of Conference USA did so, too.
Reports Monday night had the Pac-12 considering delaying the start of the season into late October rather than canceling it. Coaches and athletic directors in the SEC and ACC reiterated support of playing this fall. In the Big 12, Texas officials reportedly are pushing to play in the fall.
Staff writer Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report.