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Leistikow: 3 thoughts on Big Ten football, Trump's call and when to really expect football games


Chad Leistikow   | Hawk Central
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President Trump’s Twitter account joined forces with the Big Ten Conference’s bumbling narrative Tuesday to create a mixture of speculation, excitement and skepticism about the upcoming football season.

Yes, Trump and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren spoke about the start date of the season, the conference did acknowledge. (However, Trump’s assertion that the ball was on the 1-yard line about the Big Ten starting play “immediately” was soon debunked.)

Combine that with commentator Dan Patrick (a respected national voice) saying that an Oct. 10 start to the season was possible if the Big Ten approved new safety protocols, and there certainly was a lot to chew on.

Three thoughts on the latest in the Big Ten’s weirdest month ever …

If you’re annoyed that college football is being politicized, the Big Ten deserves some blame.

The way the conference has (mis)communicated why it postponed fall sports in an Aug. 11 vote has opened the door to plenty of criticism and, now, the White House charged through.

If the Big Ten — namely, Warren — had cited all the medical advice it based its decision on and been completely transparent about its rationale with all 14 member schools, then a slew of the league’s football players and parents and coaches would have had fewer complaints. They may have still disagreed with the decision, but at least they would have known precisely why university presidents and chancellors voted to punt on football. (The final 11-3 verdict — with Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State dissenting — was only made public Monday … 20 days after the vote occurred.)

But Warren has earned such little confidence in the public that Trump (or his handlers) had to know that the first-year commissioner could at least be used as a political pawn. The Sports Business Journal, in reporting that sports personality-turned-coronavirus skeptic Clay Travis helped facilitate the call, outlined that the White House wanted to be viewed as pro-Big Ten football in swing states that like football (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) ahead of the Nov. 3 election. It was also confirmed that Trump made no such push for the Pacific-12 Conference to reverse its decision.

Warren took Trump’s phone call, something he hasn’t done for football parents, players or regional media. And suddenly, there seemed to be momentum for the Big Ten to take swift action.

Even so, six university presidents — some of them in blue states — would have to reverse their Aug. 11 votes to reach the conference’s required 60% threshold for a decision. A 9-5 vote (at least) in support of a football season starting (insert date here) will be needed to go back on a decision the Big Ten already said would “not be revisited.”

Odds that Big Ten football kicks off before Election Day? Give me the over.

It bears mentioning … the Hawkeyes would have been extremely short-handed for Saturday’s originally scheduled opener.

Or they would have been unable to play altogether.

Iowa athletics’ 93 positive coronavirus cases last week shut down workouts for all 24 university-sponsored sports through at least Labor Day. That included 11 positives in football, which likely would have meant dozens of players being in quarantine and, thus, unavailable to play.

Sure, it's a good argument that the high positive rate (11.4%) would have been lower if fall sports were still on and football was locked into safety protocol while prepping for Northern Illinois or Maryland on Saturday.

But there’s no getting around the current reality that Iowa football has held three lifting workouts — and zero practice — since Aug. 11. The Hawkeyes haven’t had a padded practice since before the Holiday Bowl. If the Big Ten suddenly agreed to an Oct. 10 start date, Iowa wouldn’t be ready.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz has said at least six weeks — if not eight — of organized strength and conditioning plus practice time would be needed to safely begin a season.

Logically, then, November seems like the most realistic option. 

We’ve heard at least four different start-date options for Big Ten football since the league’s Aug. 11 decision. Of the four — Oct. 10, Thanksgiving-ish, early January and post-Super Bowl — I think mid- to late-November has the most momentum.

If there’s a season, at all.

Remember, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said maintaining a 12-game regular season in fall 2021 is a top Big Ten priority as its subcommittee develops scheduling options (which, once again, will need presidential approval).

A mid- to late-November kickoff to a shortened, Big Ten-only season would seem hollow if indeed the Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences are simultaneously churning toward their title games. But the Big Ten has chosen a different track, and that’s the new reality. And don't forget, those other three leagues might very well need to pause or postpone their seasons. There’s a lot yet to navigate in the coming weeks.

After Thanksgiving (at the latest), college campuses will be less crowded as the majority of students will head home for the holidays and online classes. That opening for safer sports bubbles is one reason the college basketball season, according to a Wednesday CBS Sports report, is targeting a Nov. 25 start date for men and women.

Big Ten football's best chance at an uninterrupted season would be to take advantage of the bubble that December and January would potentially provide. We already know the league is exploring indoor sites for winter football, but perhaps a November start opens up some outdoor, on-campus games as well. And another 2½ months would help to get coronavirus numbers down and testing protocols buttoned up.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.