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Once again, the Big Ten leads the way

Kevin Warren made the first move.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Tournament-Rutgers vs Michigan Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday was a dark, somber day in terms of thinking about what the college football season may look like. The 2020 football season is a months-long party that reduced its guest list, all the while knowing the party may have to be canceled before it even starts.

None of this is good, or exciting, or worth celebrating — but yesterday was another reminder how proud I am and how proud we ought to be as fans of a team in the best collegiate conference in America. The Big Ten moves the college football needle, and every other conference is in a position to follow suit.

Listen to the medical experts. Listen to the kids like Milo Eifler. Pay attention to the rise in cases across the country. A lot of what’s happening with COVID-19 is fluid. Weekly numbers change and attitudes towards what can be done is constantly changing. That’s likely what Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren was taking into account as he was talking to university presidents and athletics directors across his conference and across conferences around the country.

One just has to look at Ohio State, a university that runs one of the biggest athletics departments in the country, and its leader to see just how drastically things have turned in the last week or so. Once confident that football could happen this fall, AD Gene Smith’s attitude in his interviews reflected a larger sense of doubt felt across the college football landscape:

Just this past Wednesday, Ohio State was forced to shutdown its workouts because of an undisclosed amount of positive COVID-19 tests. This comes on the heels of flare-ups, for lack of a better phrase, at schools like North Carolina, Texas, Alabama and others in the last few weeks that have experienced similar cases.

The Athletic’s and frequent Big Ten Network contributor Nicole Auerbach was the first to report the news yesterday that the Big Ten will be playing a conference-only schedule.

This news is terrible for the non-Power 5 teams on Big Ten teams schedules. For Illinois, that includes Illinois State. Bowling Green and Connecticut. Ohio State was slated to play Bowling Green and Buffalo. Michigan was supposed to play Ball State. All of these schools rely on the millions of dollars to not just help fund their respective football programs, but to fund the other non-revenue sports in those athletic departments.

By all accounts, Kevin Warren is a man of honor who prides himself in transparency and what he called “over-communication” in his interview on Big Ten Network shortly after the news broke. Before the announcement was made, Warren mentioned that Big Ten ADs were in constant communication with their non-conference foes regarding this as a possibility, and that all were disappointingly on board, despite the financial ramifications, because those same teams were facing similar issues with how their schools were handling COVID-19 and students’ return to campus.

This was a decision not taken lightly. Ohio State at Oregon and Michigan at Washington were two marquee, Power 5 matchups that would have been nationally televised in the opening weeks of the season. Those games would have brought millions of viewers, dollars and further exposure that would benefit not just those four institutions, but literally put cash in the pockets of all Pac-12 and Big Ten universities.

What stood out yesterday was that the Big Ten Conference was the first to make this move. It was not premature. It was not brash. It was necessary and well thought out given the circumstances. And apparently the Pac 12, ACC and Big 12 are to fall in line and announce the same thing in the coming days. The SEC on the other hand won’t be making a decision until next week:

Unfortunately, this very well could be a precursor to what could be a canceled college football season. Gene Smith refused to rule it out, as did Kevin Warren.

Whatever happens, expect the Big Ten to be at the forefront of making these bold and in some sense, unpopular decisions. All of us love college football. It’s unfathomable to think we could have a September, October, November and Bowl Season without it. Sadly, it’s perhaps time to begin to wrap our heads around a worse-case scenario — one that involves COVID-19 cases spiking as students and faculty return to campuses, and as college athletes travel, even within their own conferences, to other states and cities to play.