Big Ten Makes Big Dice Roll on Restarting Football
today at 11:00 am
Yesterday was a huge news day as the Big Ten announced the football season’s return on October 23 and October 24. It was a long day of wordy public statements and protracted Zoom calls with the media. There is a wide range of thoughts and feelings one could have about this decision, but if you’re not conflicted and ambivalent, you’re just not paying attention.
Or you don’t want to, because you’re in the “yey! wave the flag!” camp on one extreme, or the “COVID-19 is going to get somebody killed!” opposite extreme. Sadly, society rewards, via the of lavishing attention upon, those two polarities while ignoring the analysis that contains nuance and contradiction. The Big Ten is taking a huge risk, albeit a very carefully calculated one.
First off, this is all about money first, and immediately laugh anyone who claims otherwise. It’s not just the billions of dollars at stake for the league and their immediate business partners. You have all the ancillary businesses, starting with now legal sports gaming. Like the sports betting at 888sport, a lot of related businesses received great news yesterday. Like restaurants near the stadium: Mustard’s Last Stand in the parking lot of Northwestern’s Ryan Field, or apparel and merchandise, like Let’s Tailgate right now down the street.
It’s also huge for bars in campus towns, as the management of Kam’s and Legends in Champaign, home of the University of Illinois, will tell you. But this is a huge gamble, much like wagering on football itself can be. Except the stakes are much higher, because you’re assessing the risk/reward with public health during a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Michigan State University just announced a massive coronavirus on campus, only three days before the Big Ten announcement on Wednesday.
Still, if you look at the Big Ten’s protocols and precautions, it’s very impressive. They came up with a plan, and an adjacent business plan. Because make no mistake about it, this is not “amateur athletics.” This is big business.
The Big Ten will require student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing.
Test results must be completed and recorded prior to each practice or game. Student-athletes who test positive for the coronavirus through point of contact (POC) daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result of the POC test.
Northwestern athletic director Dr. Jim Phillips, head football coach Pat Fitzgerald and team physician Dr. Jeff Mjaanes met with the media via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon.
“For us, the game changer was that there were significant advancements in testing, primarily antigen testing,” said Dr. Mjaanes in regards to testing protocol.[embedded content]
“Antigen testing detects certain proteins in the virus and can actually detect a level of virus that is thought to be the below the level of infectivity. You’re basically catching a positive before it’s contagious. That’s a huge breakthrough. We can identify people before they are infectious, maintaining the health and sanctity of the team.”
Dr. Mjaanes also addressed the related pressing issue of myocarditis:
“We had a couple of Big Ten institutions which struggled to get cardiac MRI, which is one of the mainstays of the evaluation in order to truly rule out the possibility of myocarditis in an athlete. Now with the fact that we’ve been able to secure some workarounds where every institution could have access to cardiac MRI, that’s a game changer.
“We’ve already been doing some cardiac MRIs on our student-athletes, and the plan is to do those through Northwestern Medicine. We’ll get it done close to home.”[embedded content]
Leaders from the primary Big Ten athletics program in the state met with the media yesterday as well. Said University of Illinis Athletic Director Josh Whitman: “As a society, we have to learn how to live in this environment. I think sports can provide one model or example of how to do that.”
U of I Chancellor Robert Jones summed it up best: “It was scientific data and information that led us to make one of the most difficult decisions” in my four decades in higher education.”
“That decision was driven by good science and the data that we have at the time. It was a difficult decision.”
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.