Is Big Ten football coming back? Hot mic incident adds another wrinkle to twisted saga

Detroit Free Press (TNS)
Ted Carter

Leave it to a hot mic to be the source for news about the Big Ten returning to football.

Ted Carter, the University of Nebraska’s president, got caught before a Tuesday morning news conference on an open microphone by Lincoln TV station KETV saying the conference plans to announce it will resume football later that evening.

“We’re getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight,” Carter told Bob Hinson, the director of the National Strategic Research Institute, in a masked conversation caught on camera and audio.

A message to a Big Ten football spokesman for comment and clarity was not immediately returned.

The quick quote came during a Senate subcommittee hearing of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about the NCAA’s name, image and likeness that included Rebecca Blank, Wisconsin’s chancellor, and Ohio State women’s track coach Karen Dennis.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) asked Blank about why the Big Ten decided to postpone football and all fall sports Aug. 11.

“There were several main reasons for that,” Blank responded. “One was that we were uncertain that we could do the level of testing and contract tracing that we needed to keep athletes safe. Secondly, there was this growing evidence about heart-related myocarditis, and that evidence was uncertain and it wasn't clear what it meant. And we wanted to know more.

“There were a few other more minor reasons. But until we have answers to that, we will keep our season postponed. Once we have answers to that and some of those issues and things that we have ways to deal with them effectively, we will try to plan a delayed season.”

Kaine followed up by asking Blank if reports of the Big Ten reviving its fall football season were accurate.

“I'm not going to speak to that. You're gonna have to let the Big Ten make that announcement when and if such a decision is made,” she said. “When such a decision happens, your first question should be, 'What's changed?' And hopefully we will have answers to exactly the issues that I just raised.”

The Big Ten, in court filings in Nebraska after being sued by eight Cornhuskers football players, revealed the initial vote was 11-3 in favor of pushing football and other fall sports to the spring of 2021. Those who opposed that decision were Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa, according to reports.

Kaine asked Blank if a unanimous vote would be needed to move the season back to the fall. Big Ten bylaws require a 60% vote, or nine members in agreement, to move ahead without complete agreement.

“I can't say what the vote is going to look like,” Blank said. “Decisions within the Big Ten are largely majority-based decisions. But I'll be honest, we almost always decide everything by consensus. We very rarely take votes.”

If the Big Ten does bring back football, it would mark another change of course in a chaotic offseason.

First came the July 9 decision to eliminate nonconference games over concern for the coronavirus, which was followed by almost all the other major conferences. Then the Big Ten on Aug. 11 became the first Power Five league to announce it would not play football this fall because of the uncertainty with COVID-19 and health and safety protocols. The Pac-12 followed a day later, but the other three leagues — the Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference — all have pushed forward.

Two of those conferences already have played games, and the SEC is scheduled to kick off Sept. 26.

That led to a month-plus of politicians, including President Donald Trump, taking aim at Big Ten leadership for its decision — despite the NCAA canceling all fall sports championships other than the Football Bowl Subdivision, which it has no control over, and four of the 10 FBS and Football Championship Subdivision conferences opting to not play. That group includes the Mid-American Conference, which overlaps Big Ten territory.