Howe: Time Was Exactly What the Big Ten Needed for Fall Football

September 16, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Everyone take a victory lap. The Big Ten is playing football again.

Not that you need this encouragement. Parents, players, coaches, athletic directors, lawyers, “media”, fans, politicians and a Twitter guy who apparently is royalty with a large boat are rejoicing, at least in part, for their perceived role in bringing it back. Everyone who loves the conference should be ecstatic it’s here again – safely – regardless of the reason.

Credit goes out to the first two groups – parents and players. As the father of three, I admire advocation. There’s no doubt in my mind the parents have their children’s best interest in mind and their cries for answers weighed on decision makers, who had to continually analyze if they were doing the right thing.

The Nebraska players that filed a lawsuit and forced the conference’s transparency also should be commended. With the athletes having the biggest stake of anyone across the league, they deserved to know how the presidents and chancellors voted last month in their decision to postpone the fall season.

That said, the pressure applied by the players, their families and others, while creating some transparency and attention, didn’t force the Big Ten’s hand. Returning to the field resulted from medical advancements and more clarity on COVID-19 than was available in early August.

No development is proving more important than rapid antigen testing for the virus that’s expected to be widely available by the end of the month. Results return in around 15 minutes. It allows for more testing and quicker results, which also helps with contact tracing.

Contract tracing has been one of the biggest hurdles needing to be cleared. Iowa dealt with interrupted workouts throughout the summer because anyone coming in contact with an infected student-athlete or staff member was required to quarantine.

In addition to better, faster testing, the Big Ten presidents and chancellors received more thorough information on the relationship between COVID-19 and Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Last month, conflicting reports on the condition were flying around. It put people on edge and the Big Ten leaders were among them.

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The concerns about Myocarditis continued last week when an Ohio State study was released. It revealed that four of the 26 athletes that tested positive for COVID-19 showed signs of the heart ailment.

The conference also has instituted stringent guidelines with its return to play. It included a rule that a student-athlete testing positive for the virus will be shut down for 21 days.

While they still are unsure of the potential longterm health effects of the virus, some of the fears about Myocarditis were eased when the co-author of the Ohio State study indicated that the report results were not a reason to cancel sports.

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That view likely was included in Sunday’s presentation by the conference’s medical experts to presidents and chancellors. That along with the rapid antigen testing flipped the tide and brought back football. These weren’t developments the Big Ten could see coming in early August, especially this soon.

The university heads deserve praise for accepting the advancements and reversing course. It doesn’t make up for their fumbling of the conference’s message and lack of transparency during the last month. They’ll be repairing that damage for some time and the criticism is very much deserved.

Cynics will wonder if the plan for coming back now is a reaction to other conferences playing, financial concerns and a desire to get into the College Football Playoff. Don’t dismiss these factors. They are the benefits of kicking off the fall season.

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They aren’t the deciding factors, however. The rapid antigen testing and Myocarditis study eases concerns about safety. That’s why we’re here.

And you can be sure feeling better about the well-being of student-athletes came with a thumbs up from the schools’ offices of general counsel. Litigation stemming from a tragedy connected to the virus most certainly is a consideration.

While nothing is for sure with this novel coronavirus and risk remains, celebrate the arrival of Big Ten football in the fall. And we can do so knowing that medical experts believe it’s safe.

Now we have to hope there aren’t any setbacks before they kick off. The way this year is going, hoping for the best comes with hits and a lot of misses.

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