The University of Wisconsin chancellor said Tuesday that Big Ten football will remain on hold until there are answers to questions about COVID-19 testing and tracing, along with possible long-term heart issues related to the coronavirus.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank said once the Big Ten university leaders have their concerns addressed “we will try to plan a delayed season.”
A month after postponing games, conference leaders are considering playing a fall season after all. There were weekend meetings on a plan to begin play as soon as mid-October.
Blank, appearing at a congressional hearing on compensation for college athletes, was asked by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., about the Big Ten's decision last month and whether the conference might reverse course.
“There were several main reasons for that,” Blank said. “One was that we were uncertain we could do the level of testing and contact tracing that we needed to keep athletes safe. Secondly, there was this growing evidence about heart-related myocarditis and that evidence was uncertain and it wasn't clear what it means and we wanted to know more. There were a few other minor reasons.”
She would not predict which way a vote to return to play would go.
“Decisions within the Big Ten are largely majority-based decisions, but I'll be honest, we almost always decide everything by consensus. We very rarely take votes,” Blank said.
When the next decision will come from the Big Ten was unclear, though KETV in Omaha posted video Tuesday of University of Nebraska President Ted Carter saying, “We're getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight,” before he spoke at an unrelated news conference.
Carter later told KLKN in Lincoln that statement was taken out of context.
“When there is any news to share or confirm regarding any Big Ten board decision, it will be announced by the Big Ten,” University of Nebraska spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke said.
Meanwhile, USC football players made a public plea Tuesday, asking California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a letter to loosen restrictions surrounding college sports and “please let us play.”
“We have sat by for two weeks watching teams across the country play the game we love safely,” sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis wrote directly to Newsom on Twitter. “Most schools have a fraction of the resources that our school and conference have provided to play safely. You are the only thing holding us back.”
The letter praised Newsom for his leadership in previously listening to athletes' voices and even offered support for the Pac-12's initial, science-based decision to postpone the football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But in light of a recent testing breakthrough and a conference-wide partnership that allows for rapid, daily antigen testing of the virus, the players wrote, “it now appears that the science and technology have turned in favor of playing.”
As it currently stands, college football teams in California can barely practice, let alone actually kick off a season. While the NFL opened in Los Angeles on Sunday in an empty new stadium, the city's college teams remain unable to gather as a full team, practice indoors, or practice anywhere in groups larger than 12.
“The last month I've watched our team train under tents, outside, in a makeshift weight room,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell wrote on Twitter. “Even with the postponement of our season they have shown up everyday. They have done EVERYTHING asked of them and simply want an opportunity.”
While those restrictions remain in place for USC, UCLA, Stanford and California, in addition to the two schools in Oregon under similar restrictions, any prospect of setting a date for the Pac-12 football season remains out of reach.
It was that sobering realization that led to the Trojans to speak out in a coordinated effort on social media, just as the Big Ten inches closer to announcing a possible return date for its own delayed season. Once it does so officially, all eyes will inevitably turn to the Pac-12 as the last remaining Power Five conference left on the sidelines this fall.