Big Ten Making Big Moves

The Big Ten has succumbed to the pressure from the NCAA to play football. A few months from now, they will regret restarting the season.

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By Yume Igarashi

When the Big Ten decided to cancel their football season on August 11, many assumed that all major conferences would follow shortly thereafter. As expected, the Pac-12 made the same announcement about 24 hours later. Many minor conferences also followed suit, citing the inability to make their football programs profitable with no fans in attendance. But with fall camp in full swing, other conferences began to trudge along. Namely, the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 had teams that shockingly made it to the first week of the season COVID-free. Some sports headliners, such as defending champions LSU Tigers and this year’s favorites, the Clemson Tigers, were able to take the field for their first scheduled game. Meanwhile, last year’s semi-finalist, Ohio State, which was picked to start the season as the second-ranked team in the country, has been forced to sit out by their conference (the Big Ten) due to COVID-19 concerns.

When it became apparent that college football would at least survive the first week of the season, the focus immediately shifted to the conferences that decided to sit out. Pressure was mounting from the NCAA and other conferences for the Big Ten to play. Fans and players alike voiced their opinions, saying that they were ready to see and play college football, respectively. Then, the news broke. Ted Carter, the president of the University of Nebraska (a Big Ten school), was caught on a hot mic saying that they were preparing to announce the beginning of football that night.

The scientists who had commended the Big Ten for being leaders in the college football community were distraught by the news. The excitement from the fans began to clash with the outrage from professionals. As each side began to make a stand, the motive for the restart was clear: money. It is unfair for the Big Ten to receive the pressure from the NCAA and even the White House to play football. The original reason for the Big Ten’s cancellation of their football season was not the immediate risk of a COVID-19 but the long-term health effects that the virus still poses. Namely, the Pac-12 and Big Ten were especially fearful of myocarditis, a heart condition that can develop as a result of battling the coronavirus. The condition causes inflammation of the heart, which can lead to an irregular heartbeat. For athletes, these types of conditions force them into immediate retirement. It seems crystal clear to me that over the last two months, the time from the cancellation of Big Ten football to the statement announcing the restart, the medical community has not come up with sufficient evidence (or any) to prove that COVID-19 does not pose a long-term risk for anyone. Athletes are not just average people. Playing Division I football requires athletes to push the limits of their bodies. The possible long-term health effects of COVID-19 would undoubtedly affect athletes even more.

The incentive for the NCAA to push the Big Ten to play is clear. The NCAA makes an estimated 800 million dollars per year off of television broadcasts and licensing rights. With the Big Ten out, there are fewer viewers and top teams that provide intrigue to the sport. But the NCAA is putting their revenue before the health of their students, and that prioritization is unacceptable. This situation represents a large part of the criticism toward the NCAA. It relates to why the NCAA refuses to pay their athletes in the first place. They put their profit first and the well-being of their athletes second.

Other conferences also have incentive to make the Big Ten play. The College Football Playoff is owned jointly by Notre Dame and the conferences that make up the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision), and their revenue per year is estimated to be around 600 million dollars. Without the Big Ten, the legitimacy of the playoff and the eventual champion is put into question. The decline in viewers, primarily on TV, would lower the financial yield that the playoff would bring.

Ironically, many other conferences and the NCAA are putting pressure on the Big Ten while they too are struggling to keep their season afloat after 21 games had already been postponed or moved due to COVID-19. One particular anecdote captures the NCAA’s struggle to keep the season going. Two games scheduled for September 12 were canceled and rescheduled for September 18. First, the Baylor vs. Louisiana Tech game was postponed due to an outbreak inside Louisiana Tech’s team. That same day, the University of Houston vs. the University of Memphis game was canceled due to an outbreak within Houston’s camp. With both games canceled and with no one to play, Memphis and Baylor decided to play each other. The day before the game, Memphis experienced an outbreak within their football team. The Baylor vs. Memphis game was canceled. Baylor had two games postponed in a matter of a few days.

The NCAA needs to get their head out of the sand. They can reverse the narrative of being a corrupt organization by doing what is best for their athletes. They must take control before the season gets out of hand.