Does the B1G now have a chance to go from punching bag to hero? Some thoughts on that
In the B1G the last month, we’ve seen an unprecedented vote from university presidents to postpone a fall football season in the midst of a pandemic, a player-led petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures, a parent-led protest outside in front of the league offices, a bunch of coaches and athletic directors publicly oppose the decision to postpone the football season, a Nebraska player-led lawsuit against the B1G for the postponed fall season, a report about possibly starting the season on Thanksgiving and a tweet Tuesday morning from President Donald Trump saying that he had a “productive” conversation with commissioner Kevin Warren to get the season started up “immediately.”
Who needs a drink?
In the ever-evolving mess that is the B1G’s current predicament, the latest chapter was, in many ways, fitting. Oh, the president casually mentioned a call in which he said they were on “the 1-yard line?” That’s just a Tuesday in the B1G these days.
Still, though. That, among other things, has certainly put the question into the Twittersphere.
Is the B1G about to go from the national punching bag to the hero?
Before we dig into whether that can actually happen based on what we know, the term “hero” might sound a bit strong. In reality, it probably is. But there’s not an English word I know of that describes “back to average after getting rightfully mocked by everyone for mishandling a massive situation so horribly.”
Whether the league plays this fall or not, the narrative would at least turn into the notion that the B1G might be a disaster from a leadership standpoint, but at least it figured out a way to not watch 3 Power 5 conferences have a football season while it sat at home in the cold.
I can assure you that SEC fans aren’t keeping their fingers crossed that the B1G will play football. I’d be surprised if fans of the Big 12 or ACC cared, either. If anything, the B1G’s move to potentially play football would hurt their chance of continuing any sort of recruiting trail optic about which conferences care about football and which conferences don’t.
Ultimately, that’s what so much of this is about — optics. Optics were what fueled the B1G presidents to not play a fall season. Schools like Nebraska and Ohio State certainly benefitted from the optics that they were so vocally against pulling the plug.
Not to get too political here, but why do you think Joe Biden and Donald Trump have publicly made strong statements about the B1G not having a fall season? Political optics just a couple of months before an election. Biden went to the Midwest states and said that Trump was the reason that football didn’t happen, which prompted Trump to respond by telling the world that he got on the phone with Warren and had a productive conversation. Whether Biden or Trump have any factual basis for what they said, why would they say it? Political optics.
Let’s not forget about the optics of that wild Friday wherein it leaked that the B1G was discussing a Thanksgiving start date. Let’s think about why that information came out. If I had players attempting to sue my organization because of a lack of transparency, what would I do? I’d throw them a bone like this one:
Source: Big Ten starting around Thanksgiving would potentially allow the league to play 10 games plus one, as opposed to 8 games plus one later in January. This is all VERY early in *discussion* phase. Expect presidents and TV partners to have a significant say.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) August 28, 2020
And then let’s think about why Dan Patrick, who was first to report that the Big Ten canceled its fall season based on information from the same source, had this “Thanksgiving start is a very long shot” information ready to go the following Monday:
“Was told that the B1G Thanksgiving start is a very long shot. More support for late January and an 8-game schedule,” Patrick said on his show Monday. “A number of players will opt out and 2021 fall season will be adjusted with the amount of padded practices and contact. The B1G is trying to save face, but they may miss their window in the fall. Going now only complicates thing.”
Patrick hit the nail on the head. The Big Ten is trying to save face. That’s what you do when you spend a month being the punching bag.
The information about conversations reported by Thamel and Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel only sees the light of day because the league wants it to look like they’re still trying to make a fall season sort of happen, even if all of that has been decided.
Let’s also take a minute to process why it was reported that the B1G connected with Trump on the basis of getting new rapid testing resources for the league. If I wanted to make it seem like I was actually doing something that didn’t incite lawsuits, protests and petitions, I’d throw the public a bone like this one:
BREAKING: Sources with direct knowledge confirm that the White House set up a meeting with the Big Ten this morning to discuss providing assistance to bring football back this fall. Primary issue was getting rapid testing from the new government stockpile. https://t.co/s35Gh31DJ0
— Austin Ward (@AWardSports) September 1, 2020
The league spent weeks getting hammered for reacting prematurely to myocarditis studies (even the Mississippi State department of transportation is out here trolling the B1G). The optics that Warren sought information about rapid testing makes it seem like he’s suddenly more aligned with the SEC, ACC and Big 12, who all pointed to their medical experts’ decisions to trust the protocols that were put in place.
Meanwhile, the B1G had such little transparency during this process that it took a lawsuit from Nebraska players challenging that a president vote ever happened in order for that information to finally be released.
Remember that all of this came from the office of Warren, who admitted that he didn’t think the decision to cancel fall the season would receive as much backlash as it did. That still says it all.
By the way, it’s worth remembering that decision wasn’t Warren’s. It was the university presidents’ decision. To turn back now, for them, would provide the optics that they’re totally powerless and indecisive.
(If you’ve ever wondered why we don’t have a college football commissioner, it’s pretty simple. University presidents and league commissioners aren’t in any position to suddenly turn over power. University presidents have billions of dollars worth of university endowments at stake with their decisions.)
The optics of liability have been driving the resistance not to play football. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is how conferences like the B1G look in states like Ohio, where high school football and professional football are being played but college football isn’t. With each passing day, the optics seem to get worse for Warren, who wasn’t prepared to deal with this fallout and has since tried making moves for what reason? To save face.
That’s why this situation is a mess that only gets messier by the day. All the angles are being played at this point.
I’m still not banking on a fall season happening and the B1G morphing into the hero. If the B1G does have any football in 2020, optics will have again forced that decision. Whether that would be the optics of making that decision after getting access to the new supply of rapid testing or the optics of making that decision as a result of watching 3 other Power 5 conferences actually go through with starting the season, who knows?
Just remember to ask yourself why certain pieces of information are being released/reported/tweeted about/spoken about at political rallies. Think about who has something to gain. Try and understand if we’re really getting closer to an unprecedented decision getting reversed, or if we’re just being told what we want to hear from people who could stand to benefit from some more public support.
You don’t go from punching bag to hero overnight. No matter how hard the B1G tries, it can’t change that. Well, unless it actually plays football this fall.
Wait for that to happen before you stop throwing haymakers.