CHICAGO – The final episode of the Big Ten football soap opera, it appears, will take place Tuesday night.
Five weeks after postponing the fall season, the conference is poised to announce a restart. Or, far less likely, to declare that no football will be played in 2020.
KETV NewsWatch 7 in Omaha, Neb., reported Nebraska President Ted Carter was caught on a hot mic Tuesday morning saying, "We're getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight."
Carter was engaged in small talk before a news conference in Lincoln, Neb.
Asked to clarify by a local TV reporter, Carter said: "I think that was picked up a little out of context. There is work going on and we remain cautiously optimistic that we will get to discovering when it's safe to play."
One Big Ten official reached by the Chicago Tribune declined to confirm an announcement will occur Tuesday night. Another declined to reply to a text.
It seems almost fitting that the strangest stretch in Big Ten history, one replete with communications breakdowns and bad messaging, would include a leak because of a hot mic gaffe.
Another clue – or tease – came Tuesday morning from the Minnesota football Twitter handle, of all things: "When was the last time #Gophers started a football season in October? #TriviaTuesday."
"Was it 1932, 1933, 1934 or 1935?"
The right answer: We only care about 2020.
Commissioner Kevin Warren has not spoken publicly in weeks, but there were some on-record comments made Monday and Tuesday by Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who participated in Congressional hearings regarding NCAA compensation issues.
Blank on Monday contradicted a report from talk-show host Dan Patrick, who said he was told only some of the 14 Big Ten schools would play. Included in his "no" category: Michigan, Michigan State and Maryland.
Blank said that's not the case: "We're all going to move together in the Big Ten. We're all going to play or not if we possibly can. This isn't going to be a school-by-school thing."
When Warren announced the Big Ten's fall sports postponement on Aug. 11, he declined to say how the schools voted. It was later revealed, thanks to a lawsuit by eight Nebraska football players, that the vote was 11-3 with Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa dissenting.
With a 60% threshold needed, that means at least six schools would need to flip. Sources were confident that would happen after hearing what the medical subcommittee of the Big Ten's Return to Competition Task Force presented to presidents and chancellors.
In addition to good news regarding the availability of rapid, daily testing, conference officials likely were impressed that the ACC and Big 12 showed Saturday that college football can be played safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Until we have answers to (medical issues), we will keep our season postponed," Blank said Tuesday during testimony. "Once we have answers ... we will try to plan a delayed season. When such a decision happens, your first question should be: What's changed?"
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) pressed Blank on the timing of the vote to "restore fall football."
She declined to answer. And because this is the Big Ten and nothing is easy, she added: "I can't say what the vote is going to look like. Decisions within the Big Ten are largely majority-based, but I'll be honest: We almost always decide everything by consensus."
The consensus among many Big Ten stakeholders – players, coaches, athletic directors and parents of players – was that the conference pulled the plug too swiftly and did a poor job of explaining its logic and timing.
State lawmakers and President Donald Trump joined the chorus of those pushing for the return of Big Ten football.
Assuming Big Ten football returns, the key question will be when – and whether teams such as Ohio State will have enough time to make a case for a College Football Playoff berth.
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