Penn State a truly Happy Valley after Big Ten announces its plan to start football season

The (Wilkes-Barre) Times-Tribune (TNS)
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour, right, and PSU president Eric Barron, left, are happy with the Big Ten's decision to start its football season in late October.

Penn State and the rest of the Big Ten will get a chance to make a run at the national football championship after all.

Thirty-six days after the conference announced that it had postponed its fall sports season, the Big Ten's Council of Presidents and Chancellors announced Wednesday morning that it voted unanimously to resume the football season the weekend of Oct. 23-24.

Teams will play an eight game regular season, with a ninth game for each team to be played in the season's final week leading up to the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 19. Wisconsin athletic director and scheduling subcommittee chairman Barry Alvarez said the top seeds from the East and West divisions will compete for the championship as usual, with the second seed from the East playing the second from the West, and so on.

Alvarez said the full conference schedule could be released later this week.

Improved testing: The driving force behind the change of heart — outside of logistical concerns about how a spring season would affect the fall 2021 campaign and, of course, the potential crippling loss of hundreds of millions of dollars — came down to an improved testing protocol that will see players and all other personnel on the field for practices and games tested for COVID-19 on a daily basis during the season.

This includes "daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition," the conference said in a statement. The conference also announced it will establish a cardiac registry to examine effects of COVID-19 on student-athletes who test positive.

Penn State head coach James Franklin is seen here leading his team onto the field at Beaver Stadium. Scenes such as this one are expected to soon be repeated. The Big Ten announced Wednesday that the conference's football teams would begin to play on the weekend of Oct. 23-24.

"It wasn't about money. It wasn't about political pressure. It wasn't about lawsuits. It wasn't about what everybody else was doing," said CoP/C chairman Morton Schapiro, the president of Northwestern University. "It was the unanimous opinion of our medical experts.

"That sort of evolved over the course of weeks. Even a week ago, I wasn’t convinced to be part of the unanimous decision to move forward. To me, the turning point was a long conversation with our medical team on Saturday, again on Sunday and again culminating late (Tuesday) night. ... Once we got the testing arrangements pretty much set and figured out how to do it safely, that’s how we moved forward."

Decisions to be based on statistics: The Big Ten will continue to make decisions about the continuation of practices and games based on statistics surrounding positive tests within team communities. Teams can continue to play if team positivity rates (the number of positive tests divided by total number of tests administered) remains at 2 percent or less, and the population positivity rate (the number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk) is less than 3.5 percent. Programs will enter an orange "proceed with caution" phase if the numbers rise to 5 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively. Play and practice will be halted if either figure rises above those rates.

"The message we've been delivering to our student-athletes during this pandemic since minute one is their individual responsibility, their responsibility and obligation to their teams and frankly to their communities," Penn State vice president for intercollegiate athletics and medical subcommittee co-chair Sandy Barbour said. "This return to competition really takes that up a couple of levels as it relates to the entire university community, as it relates to families, as it relates to faculty and community and doing this responsibly. I know our student-athletes are incredible role models for our communities, and I know they will accept that."

Controversy: The move came after much controversy, many meetings and significant speculation. Players, led by Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, organized a petition to resume the season that received more than 300,000 signatures. Parents angered that their sons' seasons were taken from them marched on Big Ten headquarters just outside of Chicago. Coaches, including James Franklin, questioned the leadership of first-year Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, arguing that while the decision to cancel might have been for sound reasons, he failed to articulate those points and future plans to coaches and players.

"We are excited for our guys to have the opportunity to get back to action safely on the weekend of October 23-24," Franklin said in a statement Wednesday morning. "These last several months have been riddled with uncertainty for our student-athletes, but they have handled it with class and dignity. Our guys have remained relentless in following our COVID-19 protocols and in their preparations to be ready to play football."