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What to know about the Big Ten’s return to play

Here are the biggest takeaways from media availability following the conference’s monumental decision.

Jim Souhan: Fall football forecast: Maybe the NFL plays Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Big Ten sent shock waves throughout the world of college football Wednesday, announcing a return to play plan for the 2020 season.

“It wasn’t about political pressure. It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about lawsuits. It wasn’t about doing what everybody else was doing,” said Northwestern president Morton Schapiro, Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C). “It was the unanimous opinion of our medical experts.”

Here are the biggest takeaways following a hectic day filled with press conferences.

A unique schedule is in store

Of course, there’s the obvious schedule adjustment with a much later start date and a conference-only slate this season, but a lot more is in store.

Starting on the weekend of Oct. 24, teams will play nine consecutive games, with no bye weeks included. No public fans will be allowed to attend games throughout the season, though the Big Ten is looking to see what it can do on a campus by campus basis to eventually allow families of student-athletes and staff to attend.

Eight of those matchups will be regular games set by the conference-only Big Ten schedule, which will be set later this week, but the ninth will be unlike anything the league has done previously.

All teams will play that ninth contest during the week of the 2020 Big Ten Championship. Teams from the East and West divisions will be pitted against each other based on conference standings. So the two second-place teams will play each other, another contest will be the third East team versus the third West team, and so forth.

“We wanted to make it a meaningful season for all of [our student-athletes],” said Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who chaired the Big Ten’s scheduling committee.

Alvarez also told media that the league will do its best to make sure teams don’t play repeat matchups from the regular season.

The title game between the top team in the East and West divisions will be conducted last on Dec. 19.

Teams are expected to have a chance to compete in the College Football Playoffs and bowl games

The Big Ten is starting its season well over a month after the SEC, ACC and Big-12, which draws concerns regarding questions whether teams within the conference will be eligible to compete in the College Football Playoff.

The conference had six teams in the AP Preseason Top-25 rankings. Ohio State is widely regarded as one of the second-best team in the FBS, behind Clemson. Though they are much more of a longshot, Penn State is a top-10 team as well.

Leaders around the Big Ten, as well as most college football analysts, are confident that teams within the league will be provided that chance.

“[The College Football Playoffs are] something that’s been connected with the Big Ten for a lot of years,” Jim Phillips, Northwestern’s vice president for athletics & recreation said. “To play a regular season in a meaningful way, to leave it 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.”

More information on testing

The availability of daily, rapid testing was one of several factors in the Big Ten’s decision to return to play. All fall student-athletes, which includes field hockey, volleyball, track & field, and men’s and women’s soccer at Maryland, will be tested daily. No other conference thus far is conducting this level of testing.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said the goal is to start this as soon as possible, but by Sept. 30 at the latest.

Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said he didn’t have a specific amount yet, but estimated that testing will cost each university $700,000 to $1 million. A spokesperson later clarified that the conference will be paying for test, but due to how Big Ten revenue is distributed to each institution, a cost at the conference level would likely result in schools receiving a smaller distribution, the Washington Post’s Emily Giambalvo reported.

“When you’re dealing with medical and looking out for the health and safety and the welfare of our students, this is what’s most appropriate,” Evans said. “So we’ve committed to do so and we will have to find the funds ... as we go through these tough financial times, there are areas in which we need to spend money, and spending money on the health of our student-athletes and protecting them through this is of significance.”

Evans said the athletic department was projecting a $60 to $65 million loss before Wednesday’s announcement, and it hopes to recover some of that with the football season resuming. The specific amount will depend on TV deal negotiations and scheduling, which could present challenge as the SEC, ACC and Big 12 all have the upper hand since they never postponed.

If someone tests positive, they won’t be able to compete in games or practices for 21 days. Maryland student-athletes who get COVID-19 will be required to stay in a single apartment-style dorm, complete with their own bathroom and kitchen, in the Old Leonardtown Community.

As noted in the Big Ten’s initial release, anyone who tests positive will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing, which entails labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI, and this will all be recorded to study any effects. They then will have to get clearance from a cardiologist specifically appointed by each institution.

Dr. Yvette Brooks, the head team physician and assistant director of the University Health Center, noted that Maryland has decided to have a cardiologist come to campus each week so no one has to travel to outside facilities.

More details on testing are available here.

Players will be able to opt back in

When the Big Ten originally announced its conference-only schedule on Aug. 5, numerous student-athletes decided to opt out, with the promise of remaining in good standing with their teams, staying on scholarship and an extra year of eligibility.

Evans said his athletic department will leave it up to each coach to decide whether a player can opt back in for the season, and both he and Maryland football head coach Mike Locksley continued to stress their support of players who already have or choose to opt out at any point.

“Because of things being so fluid, it’s important ... if it were to arise, or if a guy decided to want to opt back in, we’d bring those guys in, we’d talk, we’d have a conversation, and we’d make sure that for both parties that it’s the best situation for us all moving forward,” Locksley said. “But again, the importance of supporting them academically, supporting them mentally and all those other things, those things have remained intact and they will remain intact, whether they choose to play or not play.”

On the other end of the spectrum, several top players across the league decided to opt-out and focus on preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft when the season was postponed on Aug. 11. While no one from Maryland chose to do so, it was likely to play an impact in games this season.

Some notable players include:

  • Michigan offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield — Projected to go in the first round of the draft
  • Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins — One of the team’s top two receivers
  • Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman — One of the top wide receiver prospects, projected as a mid-first round pick
  • Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater — One of the top players at his position in the draft class, projected as a mid-first round pick
  • Ohio State offensive lineman Wyatt Davis — Regarded as the consensus top interior blocker in the draft class
  • Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade — Projected by many experts as one of the best defensive back prospects
  • Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons — One of the best players in college football who is projected as a top draft pick
  • Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore — Without a doubt one of the biggest factors in his team’s success, projected as a first round pick

The process for players that left to prepare for the draft is a bit more complicated and not necessarily guaranteed. ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren reported that if a prospect signed with an agent, they would have to go through the Student-Athlete Reinstatement process to try to regain eligibility though how much money was exchanged will play a big factor.

Davis announced on Twitter that he intends to work with the NCAA to be able to play for Ohio State this season, and Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day said Wade plans to as well. None of the other players listed above have said anything publicly that clearly expresses their desire to do so yet.

Correction: A Maryland football spokesperson later clarified more details on who will be paying for the tests.