Big Ten Reverses Decision To Cancel Football Season NPR's David Greene talks with sports columnist Christine Brennan about the decision by the Big Ten conference to play its season beginning in late October amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Big Ten Reverses Decision To Cancel Football Season

Big Ten Reverses Decision To Cancel Football Season

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NPR's David Greene talks with sports columnist Christine Brennan about the decision by the Big Ten conference to play its season beginning in late October amid the coronavirus pandemic.


Well, the Big Ten football conference will play football this fall after all. It is going to start in October. This reverses a previous decision to delay the season because of the coronavirus.

And we have with us Christine Brennan, a columnist with USA Today and a frequent guest on our program when it comes to sports stories we want to talk through. Good morning, Christine.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: And good morning, David.

GREENE: And before we start, I guess we should just mention you're actually on the board of trustees at a Big Ten school - Northwestern University. You teach at their school of journalism. So now that we have (laughter) that out of the way...


GREENE: ...Let me just ask you, what do you think of the Big Ten's plans here?

BRENNAN: And also, I should mention, it's a 64-person board at my alma mater Northwestern, David. I had absolutely no roll on any votes or decisions Northwestern has made about playing sports in the pandemic. This is the darkest day in Big Ten history.


BRENNAN: It's the day that the vaunted conference caved, that it choked. It got scared and frankly, sadly, it became the SEC. For years, the Big Ten has thought of itself as apart from other leagues, proudly touting its academic achievements and the Great Lakes values - you know, the internationally ranked research institutions, kind of better-than-everybody else as far as the big football conferences. And all the pressure of making the right decision, even - they just couldn't handle the whiny football coaches or whomever. And I'm stunned. But the Big Ten has caved, and now we'll play football in the middle of a pandemic.

GREENE: Well, let me just ask you - I mean, it sounds like you have some strong feelings about this decision. I mean...

BRENNAN: (Laughter).

GREENE: It's - you know, as part of the announcement, you had an Ohio State University physician saying, quote, "Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect health and safety."

I mean, we do have some football happening. The NFL is playing. They say they're doing it very carefully. Is there an argument here that maybe they are taking the necessary precautions and doing this with a lot of care?

BRENNAN: Certainly, the professionals are a whole different story. The NFL, they're making money. They're not on a college campus. When you consider that Michigan State has such an outbreak right now that 30 of their big houses, including 23 sororities and fraternities, have mandatory quarantining for two weeks; when you consider Maryland, Wisconsin - Wisconsin sent all its athletes home; when you consider the strain on the health systems - sure, there is that argument. I'm sure many are making it.

And I love college football. Don't get me wrong. But I do think that this is an extraordinary about-face. And - for example, they're talking about rapid tests. And that's one of the major changes here - the rapid testing antigen testing that's going to be available. So it'll be available for football players. Will it be available for the elderly in Ann Arbor or Columbus or Evanston - or school children and teachers in Bloomington, Ind., or New Brunswick, where Rutgers is, or Minneapolis? Or how about the students paying for their education who are now quarantined in East Lansing, Mich.? Do they get rapid tests, or it just goes for football players?

GREENE: There are only so many tests to go around, as we know. What were they afraid of, do you think? You said that they were afraid and they caved to fear.

BRENNAN: Certainly, the incredible outpouring against the Big Ten, especially as they watched - FOMO basically, fear of missing out, David, as they watched Notre Dame and others play. But there's no guarantee at all that they're going to continue to play. We're seeing outbreaks everywhere, postponements in those conferences that have already decided to play. So the Big Ten was looking smarter by the day, and now they have joined the other side. And we'll see how it plays out.

GREENE: Christine Brennan, columnist with USA Today, a frequent voice on our program. Christine, always great talking to you. Thanks so much.

BRENNAN: David, my pleasure. Thank you.


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