FAQ: Big Ten football is back. Now what?
The Big Ten roared back into the consciousness of college football Wednesday when it, at last, announced its return to play following a month postponement beginning Aug. 11.
But with the announcement, many, many questions remain.
How many games will be played? Will the conference complete its schedule in time to send a champion to the College Football Playoff? Who is opting in and opting out?
Let's run through some of the resolved questions and the answers that remain unknown, here:
What's the season format going to be?
Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez led the planning committee and, having presented four possible models for a return to play, the Big Ten's Presidents and Chancellors landed on an eight-game season, plus one, beginning October 23-24.
Following the eight-game slate, with no byes, the conference will play a "Champions Week" in which, along with a conference championship game on December 19, the second place teams from each division will meet, three versus three, four versus four, and so on.
What teams are participating?
All 14 Big Ten programs will play.
Will the Big Ten be eligible for the College Football Playoff?
According to Northwestern Athletic Director Jim Phillips, the chair of the College Football Playoff committee, Gary Barta of Iowa, and CFP executive director Bill Hancock have suggested that is a "real possibility." The same opportunity would also extend to traditional bowl games, he also said.
"I think that's a real possibility and something that I know our student athletes across our 14 institutions really, really are excited about, and a chance not only with the CFP, but within the bowl structure, it's something that's been connected with the Big Ten for a lot of years," Phillips said. "So to play a regular season in a meaningful way, to weave it in with our partners at Fox and ESPN, to do it under the lights that our student-athletes so enjoy doing and to have it culminate at the end of the year with a chance to play in the CFP and a chance to play in traditional bowl games is incredibly exciting."
What are the safety protocols in place?
BWI editor Matt Herb details them here if you want a complete rundown.
The short version, though, is this:
Athletes, coaches, trainers and any other on-field personnel must take point-of-care testing every day. Negative results will be required for every participant before each practice and game. This will, in theory, assure "clean competition" in which the field of play has no infected participants.
Positive-tested participants will be required to sit out for at least 21 days. Teams will be placed into green, yellow, and red categories based on testing positivity rates, among other considerations.
"Just like everything in medicine, it's not like we invented this, but we investigated it and feel very comfortable with that approach moving forward. And we know that if we can test daily with rapid testing in these small populations of teams, we're very likely to reduce infectiousness inside practice and game competitions to near 100 percent. And we can never say 100 percent, but we feel very confident that with that approach, we'll be able to make our practice and competition environments as risk free as we possibly can with this testing approach. That's an approach that's across all of our 14 institutions and all of our medical experts, we felt very confident in."
When can practices start in full?
Per Alvarez: "As far as I understand, our athletes will be able to start practice immediately. And that's what we're talking about right now, about how many hours. They should be back to a 20 hour week and actually there should be more than three weeks in preparation since we're going to play on the 23rd and 24th. So we have plenty of time to acclimate," he said. "Our athletes have been working out. Even though we postponed the season, our athletes were still available to work out and putting time in during the week of conditioning. It should be good. And they certainly should have plenty of time in preparation for the season."
When will the schedule be out?
According to Alvarez, the work will continue to go on to finalize a schedule this week and it should be "laid out later this week."
Will fans be able to attend games?
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said that as a conference, they are still exploring the options to be able to permit the families of players and coaches, but that "public sale of tickets" would not take place this season.
Can fans at least tailgate at games?
Also a hard no.
According to a university press release: "The University will absolutely not permit any tailgating in or around the stadium. Further, we will work closely with area law enforcement to support enforcement of existing municipal ordinances that limit gatherings. Athletics is actively looking for ways we can still promote the local communities and businesses."
Where will games be?
On-campus stadiums throughout the conference.
Which Penn State players are playing? Which ones aren't?
This information is changing rapidly, but every indication is that All-American linebacker Micah Parsons will remain opted out.
That said, early results are in from Jayson Oweh, Journey Brown, Pat Freiermuth, and others signifying their participation in the upcoming season. Freiermuth also joined James Franklin on Big Ten Network, clarifying that he will take the field with the Nittany Lions on Oct. 24.
"I never opted out. I don't know where those reports came from...I'm just excited to play football again for @PennStateFball."— Penn State On BTN (@PennStateOnBTN) September 16, 2020
- Pat Freiermuth (@Pat_Fry5) was a welcome interruption to @coachjfranklin's interview with some breaking news live on BTN: pic.twitter.com/RhKW6dqQrH