Note: When the Big Ten announced on Sept. 16 it was planning to play a nine-game football season, the Star Tribune ran a series of questions and answers about the decision. In light of the Wisconsin vs. Nebraska game being canceled because of COVID cases among Wisconsin players and staff, here is an updated version of that story:
Q: What if some teams don't make it through all nine games because of COVID complications?
A: Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez sidestepped that question Sept. 16. Dr. Jim Borchers, co-chair of the Big Ten's return to competition's medical task force, said: "We believe the safety protocols will allow us to complete this season."
Borchers' sentiment is being put to the test immediately since games that are missed won't be rescheduled and the virus clearly spread to a significant number of Badgers players and coaches.
Wisconsin and Nebraska, as it stands, will finish having played no more than seven regular-season games and eight games total counting the plus-one game.
Per ESPN.com, "The Big Ten requires teams to play at least six games to qualify for the division championship, unless the average number of games by all league teams drops below six. In that case, teams must play no less than two fewer games than the average number by all teams to be considered for the division championship."
If Wisconsin has to cancel two more games and finishes with five or fewer regular-season games played, it would face the prospect of being ineligible for the Big Ten West title.
Q: What are some of the Big Ten's safety protocols?
A: Players receive daily rapid testing for COVID — paid for by the conference — in an effort to contain the virus. Positive rapid tests are followed up with more testing.
The positive rate of teams and the surrounding population determines whether they can practice and play. A team rate of 2% or less means they are in the clear; between 2 and 5% will mean an adjustment in practice plans and enhanced protocols; higher than 5%, plus an overall population positive rate of 7.5% or higher, means teams need to stop practice and competition for a minimum of seven days.
Wisconsin, which reportedly has six players and six staff members who tested positive (including head coach Paul Chryst), is now shut down for seven days — though the decision is being framed as one made by the school instead of one mandated by protocols.
A player who tests positive can't return to playing in a game until at least 21 days from the test. That means second- and third-string Badgers quarterbacks Graham Mertz and Chase Wolf — already elevated on the depth chart because of a foot injury to starter Jack Coan — would have to miss at least two more games beyond Saturday's canceled game after reportedly testing positive this week.