The Big Ten college football is back. The conference presidents and chancellors on Wednesday voted to start their season the weekend of Oct. 24 after considering new medical information and testing possibilities presented to them this past weekend.
Here’s a look at how the decision was made, what it means for the Pac-12, how it could affect the College Football Playoff and much more
With a late October start date, the Big Ten can still finish its season and crown a champion in time to be considered for a semifinal spot, but it has to be approved by the playoff’s management committee. All 10 of the FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick would determine whether the Big Ten can rejoin the CFP. ACC commissioner John Swofford, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby will carry the most weight in the room, as they will have navigated their leagues through longer schedules. It would be difficult for them to say no, but they probably won’t be thrilled with the Big Ten playing a shortened season.
It might not just be the Big Ten, though, that the commissioners will have to debate. What if Clemson only plays six games? Can Clemson still qualify for the CFP? What if Alabama only plays seven games? Can the Tide still qualify for a semifinal spot? The CFP has yet to determine any benchmarks teams have to meet this season, and CFP executive director Bill Hancock told ESPN on Wednesday it doesn’t have to yet.
“There is no need to make a decision now,” he said. “Just like everything else in 2020, we will wait and evaluate the circumstances and decide.”
Hancock said the committee’s job is to rank teams based on their performances on the field in schedules determined by the conferences. “We will follow whatever protocol is determined by the management committee,” Hancock said. “Scheduling is a decision made by the conferences and we respect and welcome whatever actions the conferences take.”
What does this mean for the Pac-12?
It’s hard to ignore the fact that the most noteworthy developments for the Pac-12 since announcing its deal to provide daily testing came on the same day the Big Ten announced its plans to return. It’s not a coincidence. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott waited to release a statement, pointing to preventative government restrictions in California and Oregon, until after the Big Ten finalized its plans.
And it appears to have made some kind of an impact. When the day started, the Pac-12 was under the impression its teams in California and Oregon could not move forward due to state guidelines and by the afternoon, that was no longer case. That certainly allows for the possibility that the conference can return to play sooner that it previously hoped, but it’s still unclear how the timeline changes.
The league already has an agreement for rapid testing with Quidel Corporation, and hopes to have equipment in place by early October. When the state restrictions were an issue that needed to be addressed, sources told ESPN a mid-November start date was viewed as the most aggressive possible option. The conference has maintained for weeks it believes a six-week ramp-up period is necessary before resuming play, which, assuming that can begin once the daily testing is operational, still puts the start date somewhere in November.
The next step for the conference is for the California and Oregon school to seek clarification from their local public health officials, at either the city or county level, about what needs to be done to receive the same clearance provided by the state. If those hurdles are also clear, a source with knowledge of the discussions told ESPN on Wednesday that it’s possible the Pac-12 can return as soon as late October.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had said he spoke to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren with the hopes they could align their returns, but the more likely scenario now is the Pac-12 operates on its own timeline and eventually concedes it’s out of the playoff this year. — Kyle Bonagura
Can players who opted out of Big Ten season come back?
If a player has opted out for the season, but has not hired an agent, that player is still eligible and can return. The NCAA and conferences have made it clear that players can opt out without any repercussions to their eligibility and to their scholarship. If a player decides to declare for the draft and hires an agent, however, is where it gets tricky. A student-athlete who hires an agent is technically ruled ineligible by the NCAA