The 10 MVPs of the B1G's return to fall football
The Big Ten is back in the business of fall football, and that is terrific news.
I’m stunned for a lot of reasons, as I’m old enough to remember when Kevin Warren said this situation would not be revisited. Warren was right about one thing, though — this season definitely is not a straight line. Far from it!
I’m going to save my criticism of the Big Ten for another day because this is a day that should be celebrated. Warren and the university presidents swallowed their pride and did what was best for the players, coaches, parents and fans. Kudos to them for that.
Here are the 10 MVPs who helped bring back Big Ten football. And sorry political junkies, this list won’t include any politicians.
10. Kevin Warren (and Big Ten presidents)
I know what you are thinking: The B1G wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place if it weren’t for the commissioner (and university presidents), so how can Warren get credit? It’s a little like the Season 4 opener of The Office when Michael Scott hit Meredith with his car and was initially praised for being on the scene so quick to help her. It’s fixing a situation that was your fault in the first place.
And yes, that is true. The B1G has been plagued by misstep after misstep. But it’s important to give credit where credit is due. When advancements were made in testing and it became clear that the NFL and the majority of college football were proceeding, Warren and the university presidents set aside their egos and reversed course. Warren has rightfully been hammered by just about everyone, but it’s important to acknowledge that he at least took into account the positions of players and parents.
9. Ohio State
Something that is worth considering: If Ohio State weren’t a national title contender, would the urgency to play this season exist? I’m not sure what the correct answer is. I tend to think that if the Big Ten were the Pac-12 (which hasn’t made the College Football Playoff since 2016 and really only has Oregon as a contender this year), there wouldn’t be nearly the same pressure. The Pac-12, aside from a recent push from USC players, has been awfully quiet.
This is the first time since 2015 that the top team in the Big Ten is ranked ahead of every SEC team in the preseason AP poll. The Buckeyes were a popular pick among experts to win it all this season, and the conference would stand to benefit greatly if they pull it off.
8. NFL, Notre Dame, Iowa State and high school football
While the B1G has been on the couch the past few weeks, other teams in the Midwest have continued to play football. The NFL, Notre Dame and Iowa State opened their seasons last weekend, while high school football is being played across the Midwest (except in Illinois).
I understand that college football is a unique challenge because of these athletes being on large campuses, but seeing every other level of football being played in the same state was a tough look for the B1G.
7. All B1G players
The #WeWantToPlay movement was an important element to the B1G reconsidering its decision. Since college athletes are unpaid, it’s a bad look for universities to play through a pandemic to pay their bills. But since so many players were so vocal about their desire to play, it eased some of the difficult questions that the league would have had to answer about playing.
There’s no question that the players continually using their voice and putting pressure on Warren made this possible.
6. Ryan Day, Scott Frost, James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh
These 4 coaches, in particular, have been extremely vocal in public and private. The collective pressure they put on Warren and the university presidents undoubtedly was a factor in this story refusing to die.
It made for a very bad look for Warren, who is in his first season as commissioner and is supposed to be building relationships with these coaches. Instead, the coaches weren’t shy in expressing their frustration with Warren.
5. Justin Fields
Justin Fields is part of the “We Want to Play” movement, obviously, but I felt like he deserves his own section. Fields is a surefire top-3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft whether this season happens or not. He doesn’t need this season. And that’s why his voice was extremely important to this discussion. There was a ton of positive momentum after he started the petition urging the B1G to reconsider, and it showed that the B1G is impacting so many lives with these decisions. No one would have blamed him if he exited stage left with other B1G stars and went straight to the draft, but he didn’t, so he deserves a lot of credit.
And Fields has held on, too. If he had opted out a few weeks ago, it would have been a tough look for a league that has already lost Micah Parsons, Rashod Bateman, Rondale Moore and others. Maybe Fields will still opt out, but the fact that he held on for this long gave this a chance.
4. Randy Wade and B1G parents
It’s been really neat to see parents from rival teams come together for a cause and advocate on behalf of their sons. I’m not saying Iowa and Nebraska parents are going to break bread together when this pandemic is over, but it was strangely cool seeing them on the same side of a battle. The Iowa parents really got this rolling when they drafted a letter for Big Ten officials in the immediate aftermath of the B1G’s postponement, calling for answers and a plan. Parent groups from Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan eventually joined them and sent letters.
Randy Wade has been the individual star of the parents. The father of Ohio State’s Shaun Wade, he has been on the front line of this battle. The Florida native even hopped on a plane and led a parent protest in front of the B1G office in Rosemont, Ill. Appearing on Andy Staples’ podcast Wednesday, he talked about the importance of giving parents a voice in this discussion and even creating a parents association that would have a representative in the league office.
Even though Shaun opted out (and planned to sign with an agent) as he is likely a first-round pick, it spoke volumes that Randy still felt the need to advocate for other players who wanted to play.
This will be the top reason cited by the Big Ten, as the advancements in rapid testing are an easy justification for Warren and the rest of the presidents to cite in returning to play.
I’m no doctor, but this is obviously a factor. That said, I can recognize the optics of a situation and realize that there were a variety of reasons (like the perception of the conference while almost everyone else played) that went beyond medical factors. That’s why “science” only gets to No. 3 in these rankings.
Let’s not forget some in the medical field who played a role in bringing football back, like the Michigan cardiologist calling out the Big Ten, as well as medical experts who advised the Big 12, SEC and ACC who refused to bow down to political pressure. And most recently, the NCAA shared a cardiologist’s opinion that myocarditis in student-athletes should not be a reason to cancel college sports also helped.
Speaking of the Big 12 …
2. Big 12 (and the SEC/ACC)
The Big 12 was the linchpin in this whole thing. It seems so long ago, but recall that after the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced their postponements, it became clear that the SEC and ACC were proceeding as scheduled. The Big 12 served as the de facto swing vote.
If the Big 12 said it was siding with the B1G and Pac-12, the SEC and ACC probably would have followed suit, and there probably wouldn’t be enough momentum right now to get all the Power 5 conferences to reverse course, even with the new developments in testing.
The Big 12 had a rough opening weekend thanks to the Sun Belt, but it deserves a ton of credit for holding its ground.
1. The state of Nebraska
Cheers to you, Nebraska, for never giving up hope. There wasn’t a group of people that was as persistent in keeping this story going than the entire state. And while some national media members snuffed their noses, Nebraska never wavered.
I’ll admit, at a certain point I thought it was a little pointless, like they were wasting their time. The flirting with the Big 12 was interesting, but after that, I wondered whether they would ever move on. It even seemed like Ohio State coach Ryan Day briefly focused on the spring schedule and what it would look like. But Nebraska never turned the page away from fall, and that’s why they are the MVP of this wild,
While it’s been enlightening to hear transparency from president Ted Carter (even when he didn’t know he was on a hot mic!), athletic director Bill Moos and Frost, the turning point seemed to be the lawsuit from the 8 players. That’s when it felt like the dialogue surrounding the league coming back started to shift, as it really forced the Big Ten to be transparent.
That created enough momentum to get us where we stand today — a day I did not believe was possible 5 weeks ago. Here’s to hoping we can just talk about actual football for the rest of this fall.