There is speculation that Big Ten presidents and chancellors will rekindle discussion on their decision to postpone the fall football season during their meetings over the next couple of days. They might even vote again on the topic.
But since their Aug. 11 decision to call off all fall sports, one big question remains unanswered: What substantial improvements have occurred in the scientific understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the U.S. response to the respiratory illness that has killed more than 186,000 Americans?
In Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren’s letter explaining the decision on Aug. 19, he said it was “thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts.” He added the vote, which he noted had overwhelming support, “will not be revisited.”
Since then, it has been revealed that leaders of the 14 Big Ten members voted 11-3 in favor of postponement, with Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa wanting to play and not wait until 2021. University of Minnesota president Joan Gabel said she “absolutely” supported the decision.
This week, trial balloons have been launched about starting the season around Thanksgiving or as soon as October. While the Pac-12 is pausing its season along with the Big Ten, the SEC, Big XII and ACC are moving ahead with games starting Sept. 12. Some smaller schools will kick off their seasons Thursday through Monday.
In the Gophers’ original schedule, they were supposed to play Florida Atlantic at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday. In a revised conference-only schedule, Minnesota would have started at Michigan State on Saturday.
When the Big Ten’s decision to postpone was made three weeks ago, the conference cited one of many concerns, that being players developing myocarditis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the heart, a symptom of COVID-19.
Earlier this week, Penn State’s director of athletic medicine, Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, said approximately one-third of Big Ten athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19 appeared to have myocarditis.
“We really just don’t know what to do with it right now,” Sebastianelli said. “It’s still very early on in the infection. Some of that has led to the Pac-12 and Big Ten’s decision to put a hiatus on what’s happening.”
Warren said in his letter that transmission of COVID-19 was increasing at “alarming rates.” As of Wednesday, seven of the 11 states with Big Ten schools have had a seven-day increase in positive cases above 5 percent, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
Of all states in the Big Ten footprint, Iowa has the highest increase at 8.1 percent, and the Hawkeyes had an outbreak that led to suspending the school’s sports workouts on Aug. 31.
The Gophers reported 43 positive cases among 1,406 total tests as of Tuesday. Compared to its small sample size of 170 tests through June, the U’s positivity rate has gone from 4.1 percent to 3.0 percent at end of August. The U did not report numbers in July, and has not differentiated between student-athletes and staff.
On testing, Warren’s letter said there are “significant concerns regarding testing supply chain,” but that “accurate and widely available testing may help mitigate those concerns.”
Last week, Abbot Laboratories announced its proposed $5, 15-minute antigen test has received Food and Drug Administration emergency-use authorization, and the company said it would ramp up shipments in September with the goal of up to 50 million tests per month by early October.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Admiral Brett Giror said first responders, senior-citizen living centers and groups associated with the reopening of schools would be the first to receive these tests.
The Big Ten has said student-athletes need to be tested three times a week to safely return to competition.
Another development this week has been the involvement of President Trump, who had a phone call with Warren. Trump tweeted that they “had a very productive conversation … about immediately starting up Big Ten football. Would be good (great!) for everyone — Players, Fans, Country. On the one yard line!”
The Big Ten confirmed the call and responded with a statement that its council of presidents and chancellors and its Return to Competition Task Force “are exhausting every resource to help student-athletes get back to playing the sports they love, at the appropriate time, in the safest and healthiest way possible.”
If the Big Ten somehow moves up its season, Warren, Gabel and Gophers Athletics Director Mark Coyle will have to explain what has changed when it came to their primary stated objective: the health and safety of the Big Ten’s student-athletes.