BWI Roundtable: Is the plan to play nine games in nine weeks realistic?
The Big Ten announced Wednesday that it will not only return to play Oct. 24, but that they'll play nine games in a nine-week span.
It was a busy day for Penn State football and the Big Ten as a whole.
On Wednesday morning, the conference made it official, announcing that there would be a 2020 football season in the fall. The season will begin on Oct. 24, and unlike every other conference playing this season, there won't be any bye weeks built into the schedule. Each team will play eight regular season games over eight weeks, followed by the Big Ten Championship game on Dec. 19. That same day, the remaining teams will play a plus one, with the second-ranked team in the East Division playing the second-ranked team in the West Division, and on down the line.
So, what are the chances that there aren't any disruptions along the way? We discuss that in our latest Blue White Illustrated roundtable discussion.
Matt Herb - Magazine Editor
When the Big Ten announced its first batch of revised schedules in August, those slates featured 10 games spread out over 12 weeks, with two bye weeks built into every team’s schedule to allow for the possibility of COVID-related postponements. Now the league is saying that it wants to play nine games in nine weeks. Even with the advancements in testing capacity that conference officials hailed in their announcement Wednesday morning, it feels wildly optimistic to believe that we’re going to get 63 Big Ten football games this year. Some teams are going to end up in those orange/red or red/red categories, at least temporarily. They’re going to have to halt practices, and since there’s no flexibility built into the schedule, some games are almost certainly going to be canceled.
One of the things we’re seeing on college campuses, not just among athletic teams but in the general student body, is that testing is only part of the solution. Arizona has administered 25,000 tests according to a report earlier this week in The San Jose Mercury News, with an accuracy rate of 96 percent to 98 percent. And yet the school is under a two-week shelter-in-place order due to a rise in cases. University president Robert C. Robbins said there was a “subset of individuals, mostly students,” who were disregarding the safety protocols. Illinois has also seen a COVID spike despite an aggressive and widely praised testing regimen, and a part of the problem has been that those who test positive aren’t always following the quarantine guidelines.
Athletes are in a more structured environment, and they’re accountable for their behavior in ways that ordinary students are not. I imagine that we’re going to see much better compliance among sports teams than we’re seeing in frat houses and apartment buildings. In addition, a lot of Big Ten athletes are probably taking most if not all of their classes online, further minimizing their risk. But they are not immune from what’s happening at their universities and in their communities.
The Big Ten seems as though it has a good plan going forward, and its decision to return is surely more than just a capitulation to public pressure. The advent of daily testing does indeed look like a potential game-changer. But it’s not a foolproof solution, and I don’t think we’re going to see everyone playing nine games this year.
Nate Bauer - Website Editor
Two extremes stand out, just on an initial glance:
1) This is not going to be easy.
2) But it's far from being out of the realm of possibility.
The reality for the Big Ten, it's players and coaches and personnel, is that the conference has committed to having the resources to ensure a clean playing field. Rapid testing is going to make that possible, where before every on-field activity, be it practice or games, all participants are going to come back as positive or negative for COVID-19.
And the reality at Penn State, limited in scope as it might be given the conference-wide nature of this conversation, is that the stringent protocols that were already in place were working. This is just going to strengthen that compenent.
But as Dave Revsine of the BTN pointed out in his conversation with head coach James Franklin and tight end Pat Freiermuth, the onus is now especially on the personnel within every program to resist the temptation to stray from their protocols when away from those team activities. And at least for Freiermuth, that message is understood completely.
"I think that's the big thing is that each program have discipline for the players, don't go out and stay with each other and don't socialize outside the building with other people on campus because you put your brothers at risk," he said.
Given Franklin's stance on the issue, though, even with the Big Ten's stringent protocols and standards that are going to prevent teams from playing if positives get out of control, it seems eminently possible that, at least at Penn State, the Nittany Lions will make it through nine games in nine weeks without being sidelined as a program.
"I'm gonna go above and beyond. So whatever is expected, we wear masks and practice every single day. There's not too many people I see that are doing that. I would rather do more to make sure that our parents and our players and our coaches feel great about what we're doing."
Ryan Snyder - Recruiting Analyst
It feels risky considering everything else that we’ve seen in recent months. Just this past weekend, a host of games were cancelled across the country, including in both the Big 12 and ACC. We already know that Virginia Tech won’t play rival Virginia this upcoming weekend in what was supposed to be the season-opener for both schools. Now, the Big Ten plans for all 14 of its schools to play 63 total games. I’m not so sure about that.
With that said, the news that rapid, everyday testing will be part of the routine should play a major impact on those games taking place. The problem, however, is that teams will undoubtedly be playing some of its games shorthanded. That’s inevitable. It also became clear that today that anyone that tests positive will be forced to sit out 21 days. Ouch.
Hopefully, it won’t have a major impact on the integrity of the season. I would hate to see Penn State, or yes, even Ohio State, not reach its potential this year because a handful of important players tested positive. Can you imagine if Sean Clifford tests positive a week or two before Penn State plays Michigan or Ohio State? I wouldn’t wish that on any school. The season won’t be nearly as fun if a top 10 team like Penn State loses two of its first four games due it’s defensive or offensive line accidentally catching COVID-19.
David Eckert — BWI Contributor
Each time we’ve posed a question related to the feasibility of playing college football amid a global pandemic, I’ve always said the key was rapid testing. It’s not rocket science. If you know who could potentially be infected with the virus, you can isolate that person and prevent it from spreading within your team or opposing teams. Say what you want about how the Big Ten handled all of this in general, but it has gotten the testing part right. On a daily basis, a negative coronavirus test will be a prerequisite to partake in the team activities for the day. You really can’t do much better than that, right?
So, bringing us to the question, I think the answer is yes, it is realistic to think the Big Ten can hold a nine-game season. Is it realistic to think that it can do so without some kind of interruption, whether that be a postponement or something else? To me, probably not. But that’s OK. This is not going to be perfect. We need to accept that beforehand and understand that the structure and style usually associated with major college football will not apply here. We’re just going to be lucky to be watching Penn State play some games.
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