College Football: A B1G backpedal

September 17, 2020

Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Big Ten’s reversal on football in the fall shows importance of rapid testing for COVID-19.

After telling the world roughly a month ago that its decision to postpone football season until the spring was final, the Big Ten announced Wednesday that its members had voted to reverse course. The conference will kick off play on the penultimate weekend of October and shoot to wrap things up with its championship game on Dec. 19.

Pundits have scrambled to pinpoint what exactly changed the minds of the B1G schools. Was it the money? Politics? Helicopter parents?

The situation on the ground in the college football world did change between the league’s original decision and the B1G u-turn. The conference has apparently secured a contract for so-called rapid testing for its football players, a technology that was still emerging when the first call was made in August. By deploying rapid testing on a daily basis, the schools will have much better visibility into the real-time health status of players – the testing protocols of the Big 12, ACC and SEC right now are like driving in the rain without windshield wipers.

Daily rapid testing essentially screens players to determine if they are contagious. It identifies for isolation people who aren’t showing symptoms of COVID-19 but are able to spread the virus. That way, players and staff members aren’t infecting each other when they’re together for practices, meetings, games and the like.

So rapid testing does make things safer for that specific group of people when they are participating in football and football-related stuff. If a player contracts COVID-19, it will most likely come from something he does on his own time. In that sense, rapid testing is a big part of the phalanx of measures that can make playing football relatively safe in the current environment. For the schools, it helps protect them against claims that they are profiting off an activity that exposes players to the virus.

I’ll reserve my opinion on all of the time, energy and resources poured into this project for a different forum.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Other thoughts on the B1G news:

*It would be easy to say the conference should have been planning in August for the introduction of rapid testing, but if you’ve followed its path to market, you know that has involved some regulatory detours .

*I admit I’ve enjoyed watching such a haughty-ass conference thrash and flail about lately. The idea that the B1G is somehow morally superior to the rest of us always struck me as a joke, and you can dredge up plenty of unseemly events from its past if you have the inclination.

I have no doubt that part of the calculus behind some of the conference’s decisions over the summer involved a self-image as being a role model that is above the fray. It’s fair to assume the B1G schools believed other conferences would also conclude postponing the season was prudent, so subsequent developments caught them flat-footed. And at the end of the day, representatives of schools like Nebraska and Ohio State conducted themselves the way you’d expect for a football factory.

But schadenfreude misses a more important point. Even if arrogance played a role in how the conference arrived at its decisions, the B1G still applied a superior process relative to the conferences that plowed ahead with a season.

If the conference made a misstep, it was saying the initial decision from August “would not be revisited .” (The school presidents really left commissioner Kevin Warren hanging out to dry on that one.) I honestly don’t question the wisdom of waiting to start the season, though.

*The B1G’s strict medical protocols will give rise to conspiracy theories about the schools’ actual intent to play football this fall. A positive test will put a player out of commission for 21 days. If a team reaches a positivity rate of at least 5% based on a seven-day rolling average, it has to shut down for a week.

The conference schedule provides little cushion for teams that miss games to make them up. Keep that in mind as the start date of Oct. 23 approaches.

*Oh no, what will this mean for the College Football Playoff?

Who cares.

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