About a month ago, Bill Moos had a troubling scenario in mind.
You could see the seriousness in his eyes. The Nebraska athletic director had a vision of the SEC, Big 12 and ACC pushing forward this fall with their college football seasons. We're talking about pushing forward to the end, right down to bowl games and maybe even a national championship game.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten and Pac-12 would be on the sidelines until at least January — you know, until the big boys' season was basically done.
"I always thought the JV game was before the varsity game," Moos said then.
Ouch. A blow to the kidney.
Fast forward to Wednesday morning. The Big Ten decided it would try to play football this fall after all. It actually became a varsity outfit, as should've been the case all along. We'll see what the Pac-12 does for a football season, but the West Coast conglomeration doesn't appear to ready to start Oct. 23-24, as is the case with the Big Ten.
But how many Big Ten teams will end up playing a full schedule, given the stringent medical standards unveiled Wednesday? Will the season even get off the ground? That's a big question among Nebraska officials. It'll be a colossal challenge.
A lot of questions remain, including how difficult is the Big Ten going to make Nebraska's schedule?
Along those lines, I'm guessing Nebraska fans will regard Wednesday's news with a degree of skepticism, as they should. I'm guessing it's a muted celebration. My read is the vast majority of Husker fans wanted to play a schedule that began in September. Husker coach Scott Frost pushed hard for that scenario in a Zoom session with reporters Aug. 10.
On Aug. 11, the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted 11-3 to postpone the fall season, with only Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa voting to play.
Give Ohio State and Nebraska credit. They didn't go down quietly. Frost and NU administrators pushed privately and even publicly to play. They talked openly about playing an alternate schedule. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, in so many words, said forget that noise. But NU kept pushing, still expressing desire to play this fall. Parents kept pushing. Eight Husker players filed a lawsuit against the Big Ten (they dismissed it Wednesday). Even the governor was on board with the program's can-do mindset.
Ohio State also kept pushing, with quarterback Justin Fields helping lead the way. Other folks became headaches for the Big Ten. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day and Penn State coach James Franklin openly questioned the league's leadership, and you know they essentially were taking aim at Warren.
So, now this. A re-vote is in the books. It was unanimous this time. Play ball! Yes, it's exciting. Sort of. What if this thing gets grounded again? Remember, the Big Ten unveiled a 10-game, conference-only schedule Aug. 5 during a grand presentation on BTN, only to have it torn apart six days later. Then, on Aug. 19, Warren said the decision "wouldn't be revisited."
Moos and Frost thank their lucky stars it was revisited. It wasn't all luck. Nebraska's determination to play helped keep the conversation alive long enough for advances in the medical field — particularly rapid-response antigen testing — to take hold. If you're looking for a game-changer, that's it.
The medical part of the discussion is intriguing. To wit: If a Big Ten team's COVID-19 positivity rate is greater than 5%, it must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days. So, a question: If a team knows it's clean as a result of daily testing, why does the positivity rate rank so high in terms of importance in the league's new guidelines?
It's been an interesting few months, with sportswriter types becoming versed in myocarditis and COVID-19 testing, all the while covering a conference that handled matters so poorly that it took me back to my time covering the Lincoln Capitols of the defunct NIFL. The Capitols did the best they could with limited resources. The wealthy Big Ten was just a wreck in recent weeks, with no good excuses.
So, Wednesday morning was perhaps partly about the conference saving face, although some of the damage is irreparable. The Big Ten's brand remains strong, but not nearly as strong as it was before the pandemic arrived and Warren botched the league's handling of it at almost every turn. For instance: The lack of communication between the Big Ten office and its football programs has been substandard, to put it kindly.
“To me, I’ve said this from the beginning, I don’t necessarily have an issue with the decision (to postpone the season),” Franklin said last week of the Aug. 11 vote. “I got an issue with the process, and I got an issue with the timing. To be able to stand up in front of your team and parents and tell them that the season is canceled/postponed, but not have any answers as to how that affects their future and when we will be playing football … that’s the hard part.
“It’s been really, really challenging. I think a big part of leadership is to be able to deliver answers to people’s questions and also to be able to drive people towards a vision and drive people towards a plan. Right now, we don’t have those things.”
That changed Wednesday morning. Or at least we think it did. We've been burned before by the Big Ten.
It also should be said that COVID-19 can be highly unpredictable.
Moos can only hope the Big Ten's move up to varsity level is permanent this time.