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The plot thickens — dithering Big Ten revisits decision to cancel season

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Ohio State plays against Florida A&M at Ohio Stadium In this Sept. 21, 2013. After deciding not to play football this fall, Big Ten officials are now reportedly toying with the idea of playing a reduced schedule after all.

Jay LaPrete, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Today we continue with our ongoing theme of the last couple of weeks — College Football is a Big Hot Mess, Vol. 4.

This time we turn our attention to the Big Ten Conference, which has made three absolute final decisions about the football season and then changed its mind each time, reversing field faster than Lamar Jackson. Who’s running this thing, Rob Manfred? First, they’re going to play football this fall, then they’re not but they might play in the spring, and now it’s being reported they’re going to play later this fall. Maybe.

Or possibly indoors during the winter, whatever.

Do you get the feeling they don’t know what they’re doing?

Let’s review:

On July 9, Big Ten officials announced the league would play only conference games because of the pandemic, which of course meant eliminating dozens of games against nonconference opponents.

On Aug. 5, they announced their newly revamped conference-only schedule.

On Aug. 11 — less than a week later — they announced they would cancel the entire season with hopes of playing in the spring. In an open letter to the public, Kevin Warren, the Big Ten’s dithering commissioner, wrote, “The vote by the Big Ten Council of presidents and chancellors was overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited.”

Hold that thought because on Aug. 28 — about two weeks later — the conference revisited the decision. According to USA Today, the league is discussing a season that would start on the week of Thanksgiving, although The Journal Sentinel reported in early August that league officials were working on a plan to play an eight-game indoor season, beginning in January. An unnamed league source told CBS that fall play is a long shot.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told The Columbus Dispatch, “multiple plans are and have been discussed … No leader. Just multiple ideas. Working closely with our television partners.”

The league has established a return to competition task force to study the issue. It’s never a good thing when task forces and committees are summoned. All this fuss and, meanwhile, six other conferences are planning to play the season.

Let’s pause here to imagine the season ahead if the Big Ten resurrects its football season. The majority of schools will start their seasons at some point in September; the Big Ten will start at Thanksgiving time or maybe January; three conferences — and possibly a fourth — are considering a spring season (not going to happen, but let’s say for argument’s sake it does). How would national rankings, a national playoff and the bowl season work under such a scenario?

At the very least, the Big Ten — and the Pac-12, as well — acted prematurely in shutting down their seasons, and now they have to be regretting their decision. It will look even worse when the three other Power Five conferences — SEC, ACC and Big 12 — begin their seasons this month. Besides the intrinsic value of the games, from a practical standpoint those schools will make millions from TV, gate receipts and advertisers, as well as gain a recruiting advantage — while the Big Ten and Pac-12 are parked on the sideline.

They all have access to the same CDC information about the coronavirus, but their responses have been dramatically different. The Big Ten, Pac-12, Mid-American and Mountain West conferences canceled; the remaining six conferences will play on.

The Big Ten’s rash decision has affected a lot of other schools, as well. The original decision to play only conference games resulted in the cancellation of 33 home games, which, according to USA Today, means the loss of $22.2 million in guaranteed income for those schools. BYU alone lost two games against Big Ten teams, learning about the cancellations less than two months before the start of the season.

Since canceling the season, the Big Ten has received a strong backlash from fans, players, players’ parents and coaches. Maybe that is why the league has decided to revisit the subject after vowing not to. The dithering of league leadership — if it can be called that — has not helped.

The league refused to say definitively how it even reached the decision to cancel after being pressured from all sides for an explanation. Minnesota president Joan Gabel told CBS in early August, “We didn’t vote per se. It’s a deliberative process where we came to a decision together.” Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said, “It’s unclear to me whether or not there was a vote.”

As a result of a lawsuit brought by eight Nebraska football players, the Big Ten finally revealed this week that the decision was made by an 11-3 vote by school presidents and chancellors. CBS’s Dennis Dodd reported that Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio State voted to play in the fall. According to Omaha World-Herald reporter Sam McKewon, every Big Ten athletic director wanted to play the season, but they had no vote in the matter.

Some three weeks later, the league is back at the drawing board trying to make yet another decision about the football season. Whatever they decide, this time they mean it. Definitely. Maybe.