They’re back. Ohio State and the rest of the teams in the Big Ten will be playing football after all.
Reversing an Aug. 11 decision to postpone the season indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference announced Wednesday that its football teams will resume playing games the weekend of Oct. 23-24.
The plan is for each team to play eight games on schedules that will be worked out in the next week, with the Big Ten championship game scheduled for Dec. 19 in Indianapolis. The other 12 teams not in the championship game also will that week with the teams in second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh place in the East and West divisions matching up against each other.
When the games return, there will be no sale of tickets to the public. Only family members of players and staff will be able to watch in person.
Leading up to the original Aug. 11 cancellation decision, the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors reportedly voted 11-3 to pause the season, with Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa voting against the stoppage.
The availability now of rapid testing, which allows schools to test players daily for COVID-19 and get quick results, might be the biggest factor in the decision to return to playing games by a unanimous vote of the Big Ten presidents and chancellors.
“We are so much better prepared than we were 43 days ago,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said on a Zoom conference on the Big Ten Network.
On Aug. 11, Warren said, “You have to listen to your medical experts. There’s a lot of emotion involved with this, but when you look at the health and well-being of our student-athletes, I feel very confident that we made the right decision.”
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in August Ohio State wanted to continue the season on a revised schedule that had the Big Ten beginning the season in late September but supported the decision not to play.
“We would have preferred to play, but at the end of the day the medical advice and science overruled that,” Smith said.
On Wednesday, Smith said, “The emergence of rapid testing was critical. We’re in a better place regardless of how we got here, how painful it was or the time we waited to get to this moment, that’s all behind us.”
The Big Ten and the Pac-12 announced an indefinite halt to their fall sports seasons on the same day, perhaps expecting other Power Five conferences to choose the same path during the pandemic. But the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Notre Dame all chose to play.
Warren and the Big Ten presidents were faulted for poor communication of the reasons for shutting down the season in the days after the Aug. 11 decision. The frustration of critics of that move only increased when Warren reiterated the Big Ten’s decision would stand in late August and said it would not be revisited.
On Wednesday, Warren said, “We all have to realize this is a fluid situation, and this is also a situation where we need to be able to adapt. We need to create a situation where our student-athletes can compete in a healthy and safe environment.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day, parents of OSU players and several Buckeyes players, including quarterback Justin Fields, were among the most vocal advocates of reversing the decision not to play.
“I’m very, very excited for our players. We’re in such a stronger place today than on Aug. 11,” Day said. “Now, to get back on the field and be able to play is an amazing feeling. But now we’ve got to get back to work. We’ll enjoy this for a day, but then we’ve got a huge task ahead of us. We’ve got to get back on the field and go play.”
Did the fact other leagues and teams were playing affect the Big Ten’s change of mind? Probably. And the possibility of Ohio State or another Big Ten team being a College Football Playoff contender probably also played a role.
When Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips was asked on the Big Ten Network if Big Ten teams would be considered when the four playoff teams are selected, he called it “a real possibility.”
Two of Ohio State’s best players — offensive lineman Wyatt Davis and cornerback Shaun Wade — announced in the last week they were opting out this season to prepare for the NFL draft.
If neither of them has hired an agent, they could reverse those decisions and make OSU even more of a playoff contender. Davis used Twitter to say on Wednesday afternoon he wants to play this season and is working to make that happen.
Day says he will give them some time to think about their plans. “If they want to play, I believe 1,000 percent they should be able to play,” he said.
Ohio State punter Drue Chrisman is among the players 100 percent ready to play now. “Better late than never,” he said on Twitter after Wednesday’s announcement.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau