COLUMBUS — There’s plenty of time left on the clock, and the Big Ten is driving.
Maybe the league isn’t actually on the goal line yet with a chance to deliver the touchdown that would salvage the fall season. But when the President of the United States gets involved with an offer to help, that certainly means the fight isn’t over at this point.
After protests, petitions and lawsuits, the pressure was obviously already mounting on the presidents and chancellors around the league to reverse course on the fall cancellation and admit that a delay was always the best option moving forward. But those efforts weren’t really solutions to the Big Ten’s problem as much as attempts to get transparent explanations for the initial decision last month that seemingly erased any chance of the league playing again this year.
The White House calling commissioner Kevin Warren on Monday night to set up a Tuesday-morning meeting where it offered the possibility of distributing some of its new, cheap, rapid Covid-19 tests is something completely different. It’s a bridge back to competition — and it’s maybe even cover for the botched rollout of the postponement by simply embracing the fact that the situation has changed since early August.
“A White House representative reached out to Big Ten Conference Commissioner Kevin Warren on Monday, August 31, 2020 to facilitate a phone call between President Donald J. Trump and Commissioner Warren,” the Big Ten Conference said in a statement confirming Lettermen Row’s earlier report. “On Tuesday, September 1, 2020 Commissioner Warren and the President had a productive conversation.
“The Big Ten Conference and its Return to Competition Task Force, on behalf of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C), are exhausting every resource to help student-athletes get back to playing the sports they love, at the appropriate time, in the safest and healthiest way possible.”
Sources with direct knowledge of the call called it “very positive,” and that can be viewed as real progress based on the topic. Additional sources briefed on the Big Ten deliberations indicated before the conversation with President Donald Trump indicated that while testing wasn’t the only unresolved issue, it loomed as the single biggest hurdle in the league’s return-to-play plans. Even with the more affordable tests, buying them was still going to be a large expense if the Big Ten was going to test every team three times per week — and acquiring that many wasn’t going to be easy after the White House had just bought up 150 million of them from Abbott Laboratories last week.
Trump, though, made it clear to Warren that he would be willing to assist in that effort to help bring Big Ten football back earlier than any of the previous proposals projected. Those other plans included start dates in late November or early January, but both of those dates came with clear competitive drawbacks and still would have required a huge volume of tests. If the Big Ten COP/C was going to approve either of those plans, it’s going to be even harder now to justify why the middle of October would be any different.
According to sources with knowledge of the call, Warren acknowledged to Trump that the decision wasn’t his alone to make and that the presidents and athletic directors would still have to meet more this week to weigh the developments. But that offer of tests now clearly puts a fall slate back on the table for the Big Ten, and multiple coaches in the league confirmed to Lettermen Row that it was feasible to start training camp as early as next week with an eye on a start date around Oct. 10.
Will that happen? The presidents have already proven it’s pointless to predict how they’ll vote, and transparency with their thinking remains as elusive as Justin Fields running in the open field. The league almost certainly isn’t on the 1-yard line like Trump suggested on Tuesday morning. But at least the Big Ten is considering running an offense again.
“I think [the call] with Kevin Warren was very productive about getting the Big Ten playing again immediately,” Trump told reporters. “Let’s see what happens. … We’re pushing very hard.”
The coaches, players and family members never stopped battling in the first place.
Now they’ve got one more powerful ally, and the Big Ten presidents still have a chance to punch it in to save the season.