CECIL HURT: Big Ten decides to play football after a month of empty bluster

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News
A young fan holds up a sign during a rally organized by parents of Ohio State football players outside the rotunda of Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on August 29, 2020.

Like a returner fearful of underestimating the power of Iowa’s 14th punt of the game, the Big Ten did some backing up on Wednesday.

The league that tried to set the pace in August yielded its self-proclaimed spot on the lofty moral ground and decided that it would play football in the 2020 season after all, starting four weeks after the SEC but hoping that cramming nine games into nine weeks will get a playoff spot for one of its members, with Ohio State all but coronated before a game has been played. 

First, some positives. Assuming it is safe to play, the Big Ten news is welcome. For everyone worried that the College Football Playoff selections will now be mired in controversy and an absolute barrage of hot takes with a shelf life of one week, when is that ever not the case? One could make a strong hypothetical case that it decreases the SEC’s chances of getting two teams into the CFP semifinals, but that’s just as much a function of imbalanced leagues – Who in the ACC has a chance against Clemson? Who in the Big 12 has a chance against Oklahoma? – as a shortened Big Ten schedule. There are CFP arguments every year. This is a new twist, that’s all.

Another positive is that the players and fans are excited, as they should be, and maybe there will be some mutual recognition among fan bases that there are similarities instead of differences. Coaches, players and fans fought hard for a resumption at Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan, just as they would have at LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Alabama. I’m not sure that means “mutual respect,” but perhaps the Big Ten can dial its collective arrogance back from the historical 11 to 10.8 or so.

Third, the Big Ten will not have fans in the stands, which is probably prudent. Yes, the economic effects of no fans at Alabama games would be disastrous for both the UA athletic department and the city of Tuscaloosa. Yes, the Atlantic Coast Confeence and Big 12 seem to have navigated their attendance issues at early games without a catastrophe. But it is at best a wait-and-see moment and Tuscaloosa (and the others) has to extra vigilant on the weekend of Oct. 3  

There are negatives, too. First and foremost is the question of why the Big Ten didn't just work with the other leagues in the first place, to which no satisfactory answer has been given. That’s not just a failure of public relations, either. On Aug. 19, more than a week after the original no-fall decision, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said, “The vote by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors was overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited."

That was less than a month ago. On Wednesday, it was, “We have revisited our decision.” You can cite all the “medical advances” made in that magical month, but can you really take the Big Ten presidents at their word in the future?

That’s not even getting into the Big Ten’s original myocarditis “report,” debunked and shredded like cabbage for cole slaw after being touted by many reporters who frankly should have been smarter. Another column for another day.

The added hope for college football is a good thing. The Big Ten can put out window-dressing talking points to its heart’s content, and it doesn’t really hurt anyone. Just remember the words of Ohio State President Kristina Johnson, who, to be fair, voted against the original discontinuation and cut to the chase on Wednesday as well. 

“We’ve come out with a protocol and a process and a way to play,” Johnson said, “and what I’m thrilled about is we get to play for all the marbles.”

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt

Cecil Hurt