There's growing optimism that the University of Wisconsin will play football this fall.
After a month of backlash against its decision to push the football season to the spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors is considering reversing course and starting the season, according to several media reports. A vote didn't take place Sunday, Sept. 13, but is expected in the coming days.
The Detroit Free Press first reported the vote wouldn't take place Sunday.
The start date and structure of the football season has yet to be announced, but a proposal given to the council Sunday has games starting Oct. 17. The Big Ten is hoping to play an eight-game season with one bye week, and schedule the conference championship game for Dec. 19, per multiple reports. A Big Ten team would potentially be able to participate in the College Football Playoff, the field of which is unveiled Dec. 20.
A meeting of the full council followed a presentation Saturday by the medical committee of the conference's return-to-play task force to a steering committee of presidents and chancellors. Both meetings highlighted the changes in rapid testing processes available to conference teams and updated information regarding COVID-19's link to a heart condition called myocarditis.
The presentation, which included the promise of daily rapid testing decreasing the burden of contact tracing for a COVID-19-positive athlete, will need to swing at least six members of the COP/C, which voted 11-3 to cancel the fall season last month.
The Big Ten has faced criticism from a number of directions since that Aug. 11 decision. Players and coaches have lobbied to return to the field, including a lawsuit by Nebraska players, while players' parents have derided the lack of transparency in the Big Ten's process. Politicians have pushed the conference to play, citing the protection of players' future opportunities.
If the conference decides to play this fall, the focus shifts to preparing to play a season after Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren had said the decision not to play "will not be revisited."
An Oct. 17 start gives conference teams a little more than a month to prepare, but UW and Maryland won't be able to use that full time. The Badgers shut down team activities for football and men's hockey for two weeks due to COVID-19 test results, meaning the football team can't start practice until either Sept. 23 or 24. Maryland athletics are also on a workout pause due to COVID-19 concerns.
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, the chair of the conference's return-to-competition task force, said on his monthly radio show Wednesday that he and Badgers coach Paul Chryst agree that three weeks would be enough time to prepare the team for a season.
Chryst is one of four coaches on the return-to-competition task force's scheduling committee.
Starting the season would put the onus on players and coaches to isolate themselves as much as possible while Big Ten campuses deal with spikes in COVID-19 cases. UW isn't releasing testing numbers for each team, but the university shared this week that 83 of the 734 student-athletes who have returned to campus since June have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Saturday, there had been more than 1,300 positive COVID-19 tests on UW's campus, and two of its largest dorms are under a two-week quarantine.
Michigan State has asked its student body to quarantine after a jump in positive tests, while Michigan's graduate students are on strike due in part to COVID-19 concerns.
Nine college football games have already been postponed due to positive tests. The Big Ten's idea to fit a season into a tight window decreases the number of opportunities to make up games if they're postponed. The conference schedule featuring only league games — revealed six days before the postponement announcement — had a number of potential make-up dates built in. Those wouldn't be available for a season starting Oct. 17.
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