The Big Ten announced Wednesday that it will start the football season on the Oct. 23-24 weekend, seek to play nine games, have a title game Dec. 19, and perhaps be eligible for the College Football Playoff.

Here are some questions and answers on the conference’s return to football:

What changed between the Aug. 11 vote to not play fall football and now?

It was simply a matter of assuring the university presidents and chancellors that the league could do the necessary testing and research into the effects of myocarditis, a heart condition, on athletes who have tested positive for COVID. The availability of rapid-response testing that would allow teams to test daily is a major advancement since last month’s decision to postpone the season. “There has been a lot of advances in terms of understanding the pandemic and myocarditis and the like over the past five weeks,” said Northwestern president Morton Schapiro, chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors.

Protocols call for an athlete to sit out a minimum of 21 days after receiving a positive COVID-19 test result. Why so long?

Dr. Jim Borchers, the Ohio State football team physician and co-chair of the medical subcommittee of the Big Ten’s Return to Competition Task Force, said a minimum of 14 days from the time of the positive test would be needed for proper cardiac testing and evaluation. Borchers said the conference wanted “to make clear guidelines around a seven-day transition period” for an athlete to return to his or her activity.

Why a nine-game season, and how confident is the Big Ten that it can carry out a season without stoppages of practices or games?

“We wanted to make the season meaningful, and nine games was what we felt was very meaningful, very unique,” said Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, chairman of the task force’s scheduling subcommittee. Initial reports had the season set to begin Oct. 17 with eight games plus a bye week before the Dec. 19 conference championship game, but the council wanted to give teams an extra week to prepare. The decision to play a ninth game on the same weekend as the title contest is an interesting twist but also is important if teams want an extra win on their records to attract a bowl bid.

Will the Big Ten champion be considered for the four-team field of the College Football Playoff?

That’s a tricky one. Iowa athletic director Gary Barta is the chair of the CFP committee and presumably would have the ear of Bill Hancock, the executive director of the playoff. Asked about the chances of a Big Ten team reaching the playoff, Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said it’s “a real possibility and something that I know our student-athletes across our 14 institutions really, really are excited about.” A nine-game schedule would be only one less than the SEC would play and two fewer than the ACC. A reminder: A Big Ten team hasn’t qualified for the CFP in either of the last two seasons.

Penn State head coach James Franklin said he has been stressing fundamentals to his players.
Jose F. Moreno / Staff Photographer
Penn State head coach James Franklin said he has been stressing fundamentals to his players.

What happens if games are canceled?

The way the schedule is constructed would not allow for any canceled games to be made up. A reduced schedule for a Big Ten team might affect whether the CFP committee considers it for a spot in the field, and perhaps would remove it from bowl consideration if the traditional rule applies that any team wishing to qualify for a bowl must win a minimum of six games. Borchers, the medical subcommittee co-chair, said he believed protocols in place would allow the Big Ten to complete the season. “Certainly we know that’s a significant number of games, but that has been done in the past,” he said. “It is going to be incumbent on all of our institutions, coaches and medical staffs to ensure that health and safety is at the forefront of what we’re doing. Our medical subcommittee determined it was safe to move forward and that if we need to adjust, we’ll adjust.”

Will there be fans in the stadiums?

Penn State vice president of athletics Sandy Barbour said the Council of Presidents and Chancellors have decided there will be no public sale of tickets during the season, but there will be some fans. “We are looking to see what we can do on a campus by campus basis to accommodate the families of our student-athletes both home and away, as well as the families of staff,” she said. In Pennsylvania, the current limit remains at 250 people for an outdoor gathering.

What have the Penn State coaches and players been doing since the football season was halted?

Head coach James Franklin has been working with his players for the maximum 12 hours per week allowed by the NCAA. With football returning, the Nittany Lions will be back to 20 hours per week. As for what the Lions have been doing, Franklin told Big Ten Network, “It’s been more fundamentals. It’s been more throwing on air. It’s been more schemes, walkthroughs and things like that. But we’ll have enough time here based on what the schedule is saying to get some contact. We’re going to need a little bit of that.”