Last week, the Big Ten Conference announced that fall sports will participate against conference opponents only, provided the season takes place in 2020. This will shorten the football season by three games, though the Big Ten might consider adding a 10th conference game as the season progresses.
While this type of planning is something each conference is considering — and should consider in times like these — the season is in jeopardy as it is. When it comes to travel, this does specifically help the Big Ten because of its regional presence in the Midwest. For Big Ten West teams like Minnesota, it helps even more because it requires less travel out east. Right now, Minnesota is scheduled to go further east than the state of Michigan once, to face Maryland. Controlling extraneous travel will do a great deal to ensure the season can even come close to beginning.
Therein lies the problem, though: Starting the season on time, or in enough time to complete it before the seasons change.
The Big Ten has a significant disadvantage with where most of its member schools are geographically. The northern conference doesn’t avoid wintry weather altogether — it snowed during two Gophers’ home games last season — but if the season is prolonged, this could become an extreme logistical issue.
No Big Ten school has an indoor football stadium, and at many the cold/extreme-weather accommodations are minimal. Asking Minnesota to move its entire schedule back two or three months would be nearly impossible. Playing outside in Minneapolis in early January or February is not realistic, even for TCF Bank Stadium, which was upgraded to host NFL football for two seasons. Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State all will run into similar issues with the weather.
Beyond starting the season late and playing through the winter, the player component is difficult to grasp. Regardless of the travel precautions and team hygiene protocols, college football rosters consist of nearly 100 players who share a locker room and play a contact sport.
With MLB teams and NHL teams coming back to smaller training camps with positive tests registering at around 5%, what affect would this have on the situation for student-athletes? Could teams have enough positive tests and players willing to sit out to essentially forfeit the season? Even if the season does begin on time or late, the circumstance could change quickly, given the unpredictability surrounding the virus.
There is a lot of time before the season is even supposed to begin, and the Big Ten needs to focus on getting to the first games with healthy and safe participants before it considers anything further, especially adding a 10th conference game.