Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren sent a letter to his 14 athletic directors Thursday saying the conference planned to make a decision on when to start preseason “within five days.”
That times out rather well with Tuesday’s NCAA Board of Governors meeting.
The NCAA meeting of university leaders could make the Big Ten’s decision easier by canceling all fall sports championships. It’s the same move the NCAA made in March that effectively canceled all winter and spring sports, because there’s not really any point to playing a regular season without a championship.
But the NCAA has had this opportunity before, even just two weeks ago, and tabled the matter, pushing it off to the future, with the hope that more information would reveal some way forward for the upcoming season.
The coronavirus pandemic, though, hasn’t abated, and with football training camp scheduled to start this week and the season in another month, these leagues are running out of time to make a call. Another option is delaying to later in August.
For football, though, there is a unique loophole.
The College Football Playoff, the national championship for FBS teams, and the subsequent bowl game system are run outside of the NCAA’s purview. That means even if the NCAA canceled fall championships, that wouldn’t necessarily mean an end for football.
A Sports Illustrated report this past weekend detailed how the Power Five conferences have started looking into staging their own fall championships, potentially signaling a future breakoff from the NCAA for the 65 schools within the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Pacific-12, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences.
The SEC, Pac-12 and ACC have already announced their revised season schedules for football. The Pac-12, for example, will start training camp Aug. 17 and the 10-game conference-only season Sept. 26. But this plan, still in preliminary talks, would also allow for fall championships for the Power Five nonrevenue sports such as volleyball and soccer. Per the Sports Illustrated report, that is mainly for optics, as just playing the revenue-generating football season without other sports would raise ethics questions.
That’s already happened within the Pac-12. A group of hundreds of student-athletes from that conference announced in a Players’ Tribune feature Sunday their intent to opt out of the upcoming season unless the conference can reach an agreement with them on issues of health and safety, racial injustice and economic equity.
The potential boycott is one of the largest organized player protests in college sports, sparked from concerns about playing in a pandemic as well as renewed calls to end racial injustice after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody about two months ago.
Some Gophers football players have weighed in on social media, with cornerback Coney Durr writing on Twitter July 9: “How does fall camp even happen? 110 guys around each other 12 hours a day for a month straight. Man, it’s tough times right now.”
Durr also retweeted a Sunday tweet from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., that said, “COVID has exposed a civil rights crisis in big-time college sports: unpaid kids — mostly of color — risking their lives to make millions for adults — mostly white. This needs to change. NOW.”
Gophers quarterback Seth Green said July 23 he felt safe participating in the team’s current workouts, walkthroughs and meetings, separated by position groups.
The Gophers athletics department is overdue to announce the latest round of COVID-19 test results for its student-athletes, something it planned to do at the end of every month. The most recent release from June 30 announced seven had tested positive of 170 administered tests across the football, volleyball, soccer and basketball teams.
But the next step is still unclear.
“I feel like as of now, there’s not a super-safe procedure to have training camp in play, but I feel like that’s what they’re working on and that’s what determines the start dates,” Green said. “I feel confident that if they don’t have a safe way to go about it, then they’ll either push it back or reschedule it.
“ … I’ve got faith in them for the most part.”