The Fifth Quarter: Week 9 Rewind

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As is the case each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

The room got really dusty for some reason…
Don’t care what transpired between the opening kickoff and the final whistle in any game played this weekend; nothing topped what happened in Piscataway Saturday.  Just over a year to the day of suffering a career-ending and life-altering neck injury, Eric LeGrand led his former Rutgers teammates out of the tunnel and onto the field ahead of the Scarlet Knights’ game with No. 25 West Virginia.  The paralyzed LeGrand, who has launched what’s taken on the look of a promising broadcasting career, maneuvered his motorized wheelchair through the snow and out to the 50-yard line to the chants of “Fif-Tee-Two!” from the Rutgers faithful.  It was a powerful, emotional moment for a young man whose fight over the past 54 weeks to walk again has been an inspiration to millions.  Hopefully, one of these days in the not-too-distant future, Legrand will be able to lead his former school onto the field yet again, only this time sans the wheels that keep him mobile these days.

“It felt great leading the team out on to the field today,” LeGrand said afterward. “That’s the team I played with throughout my career here. Leading them out on the field was a great opportunity and it really was a great time. It was a very special moment. I can’t even explain it – it was a very emotional moment.”

This note — hell, the entire post — would be utterly incomplete, though, without video of LeGrand leading his team onto the field.  Word of warning: keep a Kleenex or two handy.  Ya know, just in case the room abruptly gets awful dusty:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4y1pKOXEJg]

God bless Eric and his ongoing recovery…

The streak is dead, but THE streak is alive and well
No. 4 Stanford came into their game with No. 20 USC having beaten their last 10 opponents by at least 25 points.  While that streak came to an end, a much more important one continues unabated — barely — as the Cardinal won their nation’s-best 16th straight on the strength of a wild 56-48 triple-overtime victory over the Trojans.  This was the Cardinal’s first real test of the 2011 season, and they passed it by the slimmest of margins, but it was an effort that could very well drop them in the eyes of some voters (It shouldn’t; USC is a helluva football team).  Based on how unbeatens have dropped like flies the past two weekends, Stanford should consider itself lucky, so to speak, regardless of what it may have looked like to those charged with picking the shape of the polls.  All that said… what a helluva football game.  As a fan of neither team, that was a joy to witness.

Rebounding Sooner rather than later
Well, that certainly didn’t take long.  After getting stunned in Norman last weekend in their first loss of the season, No. 11 Oklahoma faced another stiff challenge in the form of No. 10 and undefeated Kansas State on the road.  Well, on paper it was a stiff challenge.  After allowing the Wildcats to hang around for a half, the Sooners escalated things very quickly in the second half, outscoring KSU 35-0 the final two quarters to win going away 58-17.  Perhaps most encouraging for Bob Stoops & Company is how quickly the Sooners pushed the stunning upset out of their minds and focused on the business at hand, which was the smaller picture of beating K-State and the larger picture of still hanging around the periphery of BcS title game contention.  If the Sooners can win their remaining games… if they can get some additional help like they did Saturday from other teams falling from the ranks of the unbeaten… if that were to transpire, they’d find their one-loss selves right back in the crystal mix.  Of course, there’s that little Bedlam matter that could still carry a significant amount of weight on the national stage.  Speaking of Bedlam…

Cowboys prove Twain’s borrowed thesis
“Lies, damned lies and statistics.”  That well-known colloquialism generally attributed to the famous American author was never more in play than it was during the Oklahoma State-Baylor game Saturday.  The Bears outgained the No. 3 Cowboys in total offense, 622 to 601… in first downs, 36 to 23… in time of possession, 38:54 to 21:06… and still got rolled 59-24.  Of course, when you lose the turnover battle 5-1, and the opposition scores 21 points off those turnovers, it has a tendency to negate any of the positive statistics accrued.  The only statistic that matters, however, is the final score, one that keeps the Cowboys on an early-January trajectory for New Orleans.  Along with LSU and Alabama — one of which won’t after next Saturday — OSU is one of three teams in the country that currently controls its own destiny in the race to fill the two BcS title game slots.  Win out, and the Cowboys will play for the championship.  With games against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma, that’s easier said than done.

The Smurf Turf’d Ones
If No. 5 Boise State is to ever make it to a BcS title game, they are going to need a tremendous amount of help.  And, boy, have the Broncos gotten just that the past two weeks.  Last Saturday, it was Oklahoma and Wisconsin falling from the ranks of the unbeaten.  This Saturday, Kansas State and Clemson did the same — while BSU was on their bye weekend.  The Broncos still have to hope Stanford and Oklahoma State drop at least one — and hope that a one-loss team like Oklahoma or the loser of LSU-Auburn doesn’t leapfrog them — but the Broncos are potentially in the best position they’ve ever been in to get where not many think they belong: right in the thick of the BcS title discussion.

Vandy wasn’t built in a day
But it’s getting there.  Despite the heartbreaking loss to No. 8 Arkansas — a 27-yard field goal to tie the game?  Really, Mr. Kicking Non-Football Player Guy? — first-year head coach James Franklin is on the verge of turning the Vanderbilt football program from perennial SEC laughingstock to, dare we say, respectable?  It sure looks that way.  While they were on the short-end of a 31-28 score against supposedly one of the best teams the SEC has to offer, and while they’re currently just 1-4 in conference play, a signature win is coming for this program.  And, it’s coming sooner rather than later.

Buckeyes might find themselves in a bit of a Fickle
(See what I did there?)
I along with most sane individuals feel that Ohio State will put the full-court press on Urban Meyer at some point in the future — if they haven’t already begun the process — and attempt to persuade the former Florida head coach to become the full-time replacement for Jim Tressel.  If they can’t land Meyer, who is far and away the most optimum option, what if their long-term answer is already on the sidelines?  Once again, Luke Fickell stated his case to become Tressel’s permanent successor with a stunning, last-minute 33-29 upset over No. 12 Wisconsin.  It wasn’t pretty but it was a win, continuing a trend that began following a humbling loss to Miami: marked improvement in each and every phase in each game since.  The Buckeyes are just 5-3, but two of those losses have come by a combined 10 points to Michigan State at home and Nebraska on the road.  Again, OSU must try to land Meyer.  If they don’t, and as I’ve stated multiple times in the past, I hope they give Fickell a fair shot at continuing his dream job beyond the 2011 season.  Through all of the off-the-field BS that’s cost him on the field, he’s earned that much from his alma mater.

Win one — or two — for the Gopher
A season for Jerry Kill that began with his Minnesota Golden Gophers losing six of their first seven games — more than half of which came in blowout fashion — and sideline seizures is beginning to turn a corner.  And it couldn’t happen to a nicer man.  Tuesday, Kill signed a seven-year contract that showed the university’s commitment to him despite the health issues.  Four days later, the first-year coach notched the biggest win of his brief Gopher career, stunningly dropping Iowa 22-21 and preventing the Hawkeyes from climbing into a four-way tie in the Big Ten’s Legends (chuckle) division.  Kill and his program still have a long way to go to dig themselves out of the mess left by Tim Brewster, but this win was a huge shot in the arm for a Gophers team that desperately needed some positive on-field news.

Don’t look now, but somebody’s let the Bulldogs out
It goes without saying that SEC East this year, compared to their West counterparts, is down again this season — that’s being kind — and that development plays right into the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs.  A good-but-not-great team, UGA has quietly won six games in a row, with five of those victories coming in conference play.  A 24-20 win over Florida helps the No. 22 Bulldogs keep pace with No. 14 South Carolina in the East division race at 5-1, although the Gamecocks hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their Week 2 win over UGA.  Still, the Bulldogs have set themselves up for, if the Gamecocks stumble once and they continue their winning ways, a blowout loss in the SEC championship game.  In addition to keeping them in the divisional race, the win over UF also likely keeps the wolves still howling around Mark Richt‘s door at bay.  Richt had lost eight of his previous 10 games against the hated rival, and simply couldn’t afford to fall to 2-9; just ask John Cooper how a similar record against an archrival ultimately turns out.

Nah, we’re just kiddin’…
I don’t know how many of you have younger brothers, but today’s Michigan-Purdue took on the look of one of those sibling basketball games.  The No. 17 Wolverines — playing the role of older brother — spotted their younger brother — a role played in Academy Award-worthy fashion by the Boilermakers — seven points… and then proceeded to block every shot, steal every dribble, and generally rub Purdue’s faces in their utter superiority.  After allowing a Boilermakers touchdown less than a minute and a half into it, the Wolverines ripped off 36 unanswered points until a meaningless TD with 15 seconds left ended the streak.  The 36-14 win pushes Michigan to 7-1 overall in Brady Hoke‘s first year and into a three-way tie for first-place in the Big Ten’s Legends (chuckle) division.

LOSERS

Just Clemson bein’ Clemson y’all
All season long, Ben — along with most of the free world — has been (impatiently) waiting for Clemson to have a prototypical Clemson game — i.e. losing a game they had no business not winning.  That long wait is officially over.  As is CU’s undefeated season and shot at a BcS title.  Against a Georgia Tech team that had come into the game the losers of two straight, the No. 6 Tigers fell behind 24-3 after two quarters and could never get any closer than the final of 31-17.  After pulling to within 14 on the first play of the fourth quarter, Clemson had three offensive series, two of which ended in Tajh Boyd interceptions.  The Tigers have been a high-wire act all season long, but had been able to avoid a misstep in winning their first eight games.  The ninth game, they took the biggest tumble of all.  With New Orleans now (likely) out of the realm of possibility, the Tigers must shift their focus to the race for the ACC Atlantic crown.  Following a bye this upcoming weekend, Clemson will take on Wake Forest; despite a loss to North Carolina Saturday, the Demon Deacons are at 4-2, a game behind the Tigers.  A BcS bowl, or at least a berth in the ACC title game, is still well within the Tigers’ grasp, provided they rebound quickly from what’s no doubt a demoralizing defeat.

Bucky gets kicked south of the border… again
Down by 14 in the fourth quarter against Michigan State last Saturday, Wisconsin came back to tie the game, only to lose on a last-second Hail Mary.  Down again by 12 in the fourth quarter against Ohio State this Saturday, the Badgers came back to take the lead… only to lose on a last-minute, 40-yard Hail Mary off the right arm of the Buckeyes’ true freshman Braxton Miller.  Un-freaking-believable.  Two weeks, two gut-wrenching losses that all but takes the Badgers out of contention for the Big Ten Leaders (chuckle) crown.  UW is now 2-2 in conference play, behind Penn State and their improbable 5-0 start.  The good news for the Badgers?  The Nittany Lions have three games remaining: against Nebraska and on the road against Ohio State and, yes, UW.  The bad news?  It’s going to be very, very tough for the Badgers to come back from two extremely deflating and devastating losses.

The return of the gAggies
After shelving a very well-deserved nickname by hanging on in a win over Baylor two weeks ago, “gag ’em” is back in vogue in College Station.  For the third time this season, No. 16 Texas A&M coughed up a double-digit halftime lead in their stunning 38-31 overtime loss to Missouri.  How can A&M choke?  Let us count the ways: a 20-3 halftime lead over Oklahoma State?  Vanished in less than a quarter; a 35-17 halftime lead over Arkansas?  Outscored 25-3 in the second half; a 28-17 halftime lead over Mizzou?  Washed away as the Aggies were outscored 21-3 the rest of the way.  Once is unacceptable and twice in a season is cause for serious concern.  Three times in the span of six games, two of which came at home?  That’s a damning indictment of Mike Sherman and his entire coaching staff, getting thoroughly outcoached while the two teams were sitting in their respective locker rooms on three different occasions.  Good luck in the SEC, Aggies, a conference that sports some of the top coaches in the country.

Boston College 28, Maryland 17
When you run off a quality coach and an even better man like you did Ralph Friedgen, Kevin Anderson, karma can turn into a nasty, nasty wench.  With the laughable loss to a BC team that had won just one game this year, the nattily-clad Terps now stand at 2-6 overall and 1-4 in ACC play; they were 9-4 in Friedgen’s final season in College Park.  First-year head coach Randy Edsall, who didn’t have the testicles to tell his UConn players face-to-face that he was leaving for Maryland, has turned freshman All-American quarterback Danny O’Brien into a backup.  The announced attendance for the latest loss was under 30,000 in a stadium that has an official capacity of 54,000; one of the reasons given for Friedgen’s dismissal was a diminishing and disinterested fan base.  You are reaping what you’ve sown with the start to the Edsall Era, Mr. Anderson.  Including this…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rm81LSKJC2k]

Hail Mary Hangover Leads to Legends Logjam
(Writer’s note: my apologies to anyone suffering from the crippling effects of alliterationaphobia.)
No. 9 Michigan State was on the final leg of a brutal four-game stretch that included games in Columbus and against Michigan and Wisconsin, with the latter featuring a last-second Hail Mary for the win.  Regardless of whether it was a letdown from that thrilling win or simply the cumulative effects of playing quality conference opponents, the Spartans were very un-Sparty in their 24-3 loss at No. 13 Nebraska Saturday and, while it capped a very solid 3-1 stretch, it also created a crowd at the top of the Big Ten’s Legends (chuckle) division.  Thanks to MSU’s loss and wins by NU and Michigan, those three teams are now tied atop the division at 3-1 — it would’ve been four teams but for Iowa’s embarrassing loss to Minnesota.  The Cornhuskers’ win today leaves them in the driver’s seat with games against the Wolverines and Hawkeyes still remaining, and the only team truly in control of its own fate in the Legends (chuckle) division; both Michigan schools could need some help depending on if they win out and what the other teams do the rest of the way.  That said, there’s a still a lot of distance between now and the first-ever Big Ten title game in Indianapolis in early December, and, as the Hawkeyes proved against the Gophers, a whole helluva lot can happen in the next month or so.

Gill’s as good as gone
It’s hard to imagine a team that’s lost four of its past five games by an average of 38 points could get any lower, but Kansas has officially reached  down and found rock bottom.  Again.  In their 43-0 woodshedding at the hands of Texas, the Jayhawks were held to 46 yards of offense.  Total.  For the entire game.  The defense was no better, allowing the Longhorns, which came into the game ranked No. 72 in total offense per game, to pile up 590 yards, including 434 on the ground.  Following last week’s 38-point loss to in-state rival Kansas State, KU’s athletic director was noncommittal on Turner Gill‘s future as head coach.  After this latest embarrassment, we’re guessing the athletic department is going to become very committed very soon — to finding a new head football coach.

Winter Blunderland
No. 21 Penn State and Illinois would look unimpressive if the weather conditions were ideal.  Toss in a wintry mix of snow and more snow?  Yeah, you know what’s coming.  The carnage: Penn State fumbled six times, losing two of them; the two teams combined for seven turnovers; in the passing game, the two teams were a combined 22-of-52 for 192 yards and three interceptions; and the Illini’s Derek Dimke doinked a 42-yard field goal attempt off the right upright as time expired that would’ve tied the game.  Add it all up, though, and the Nittany Lions came away with an ass-ugly 10-7 win, inexplicably pushing their record to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in Big Ten play on the season.  And you know what?  That 8-1 record is all that matters.  It matters not how they got there or how they looked in winning eight of nine.  The only thing that really matters is where they currently stand.  And where they could end up, which is Indianapolis in early December — warts, back hair, leprosy and all — if the current trend continues.

The defense rests… literally
As we wrote on Twitter, even the French were embarrassed at the amount of ground surrendered in this Big Ten game.  Northwestern and Indiana combined for 59 points and 681 yards of offense — in the first half alone.  For the game, the two teams combined for 97 points — 59 for the Wildcats — and 1,104 yards of offense — the Wildcats had 616 of those — in NU’s first Big Ten win of the season.  There’s no truth to the rumor that the Big 12 immediately offered invitations for membership to both schools following the game.  Or that there was any unusual underground activity at or around the grave sites of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

Douche of the Weak
This video of Arkansas’ Marquel Wade taking a cheap on and then celebrating over Vandy’s Jonathan Krause is pretty much self-explanatory, except for the fact that Wade was rightly ejected from the contest following the bush-league play:

ODDS & ENDS

— Joe Paterno broke Eddie Robinson‘s record for victories by a Division I head coach with Penn State’s win over Illinois.  JoePa now has 409 career wins; at his current pace of nine wins a season, the coaching legend would claim No. 500 sometime late in the 2021 season or early in the 2022 season at the ripe old age of 94/95.  Hey, I ain’t betting against the man.

— Quarterback controversy brewing in Eugene?  That could very well be the case as, with Washington State trailing just 15-10 at the half, No. 7 Oregon pulled starter Darron Thomas in favor of Bryan Bennett; the redshirt freshman then proceeded to lead the Ducks on three second-half touchdown drives in the 43-28 win.  Head coach Chip Kelly said the pulling of Thomas, who missed last weekend’s game due to injury, was “performance/injury based.”  This will definitely be something to keep an eye on throughout the upcoming week.

— One of the most devastating and heartbreaking injuries of the weekend goes to Oklahoma’s Dominique Whaley, who will miss the remainder of the season after breaking his ankle in the win over Kansas State.  It’s not just the fact that Whaley is the Sooners’ leading rusher that makes it devastating and heartbreaking; the fact that Whaley is a walk-on and a heartwarming story makes it worse than what it might’ve been anyway.

— In the past 30 years, Kansas State sports a 156-81-1 record (.658) during the 20 years Bill Snyder has been the head coach, a 32-80-3 mark (.291) when Snyder’s not.  The Wildcats began playing football 99 years ago and have compiled 33 seasons with  better-than-.500 records; Snyder-coached teams have accounted for 13 of those.  So, yes, a head coach can make a helluva difference, especially at the collegiate level.

— What the hell is wrong with Blair Walsh?  Georgia’s All-American kicker missed five field goals the last two seasons combined; this year, Walsh has missed 10, including two in the win over Florida.

— On the WTF front, No. 19 Texas Tech beat previously unbeaten Oklahoma last weekend in Norman, handing the Sooners their first home loss since 2005 and their first conference loss at home since 2001.  Exactly a week later, the Red Raiders lost to Iowa State, previously 3-4, in Lubbock.  Again, how the hell does that happen?

— The over/under of 82 for the Oklahoma State-Baylor game was the largest college football total in recorded point spread history.  Incidentally, the two teams combined for 83 points, with the Bears scoring a meaningless touchdown with 1:06 left to push the total above the over.  Funny how that whole gambling thing works out sometimes.

– The last three years, TCU has finished No. 1 in total defense; this season, they were sitting at No. 37 prior to their win over BYU Friday night.  Additionally, the Horned Frogs have lost two games this season; they lost three games in the previous three season combined.  Coincidence?

— A high-ankle sprain kept Army quarterback Trent Steelman from starting Saturday against Fordham, which would’ve extended his academy-best streak to 33 games.  It was the first game of Steelman’s Black Knights career that he didn’t start let alone play in.

HEISMAN RACE, BY THE NUMBERS

A statistical look at how some — stressing the word “some” — of the top contenders for this year’s stiff-arm trophy fared this weekend, listed in alphabetical order so as not to offend any of the delicate sensibilities readers in the audience may possess or get their unmentionables all wadded up over “their” player being excluded:

Case Keenum, QB, Houston (8-0, No. 18)
Thursday: 24-of-37 (64.9 percent), 534 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception; zero rushing touchdowns
Season: 218-of-303 (71.9 percent), 3,219 yards, 32 touchdowns, three interceptions; zero rushing touchdowns

Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (7-0, No. 7)
Saturday: 29-of-40 (70.3 percent), 325 yards, three touchdowns, one interception; one rushing touchdown
Season: 174-of-242 (71.8 percent), 2,213 yards, 23 touchdowns, four interceptions; two rushing touchdown

Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (7-0, No. 5)
Saturday: bye weekend
Season: 174-of-228 (76.3 percent), 2,010 yards, 24 touchdowns, five interceptions; three rushing touchdowns

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (8-0, No. 2)
Saturday: bye weekend
Season: 149 carries for 989 yards (6.6 yards per carry), 17 touchdowns; 18 receptions for 212 yards, one receiving touchdown

Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (8-0, No. 3)
Saturday: 24-of-36 (66.7 percent), 274 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions; zero rushing touchdowns
Season: 246-of-345 (71.3 percent), 2,710 yards, 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions; zero rushing touchdowns

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

— In 291 pass attempts in 2010, Michigan’s Denard Robinson threw 11 interceptions.  In 142 pass attempts in 2011, Robinson has thrown, you guessed it, 11 interceptions.

Landry Jones set an Oklahoma record with 505 yards passing in OU’s beatdown of Kansas State.  Jones also passed Sam Bradford for the most touchdown passes in OU history and now has 90 for his career.

— Baylor has not beaten Oklahoma State in Stillwater since 1939.

— In a performance that only a mother, or a fan of the 2011 Ohio State Buckeyes, could truly appreciate, Nebraska passed for zero net yards in the first half of their win over Michigan State.

— At one point during the Georgia-Florida game, quarterbacks Aaron Murray and John Brantley had combined to complete just 1-of 21 passes.

— With the loss to Georgia, Florida has lost four in a row for the first time since the 1988 season, and four in a row in SEC play since 1979.

— Keeping with the Cocktail Party theme, UGA linebacker Jarvis Jones recorded for sacks against the Gators.

— Michigan’s Fritz Touissant rushed for a career-high 170 yards — on just 20 carries — and two touchdowns in the Wolverines’ win over Purdue.

– The nine touchdown passes Case Keenum threw in less than four quarters of work in No. 18 Houston’s win against Rice Thursday night was more than 31 teams had thrown all season entering the Week 9 slate of games, including BcS conference schools such as Florida, Texas, Nebraska, Penn State and Pittsburgh.

Clint Moseley threw the first four touchdown passes of his collegiate career in Auburn’s 41-23 win over Mississippi.

— In their upset of Texas Tech, Iowa State rushed for a season-high 368 yards.  The Cyclones came into the game averaging just under 147 yards per game.

— Yale’s Mordecai Cargill ran for a career-high 230 yards and two TDs in a 16-13 win over Columbia.  And, yes, I included this just so I could both type the name “Mordecai” and say that I pay attention to Ivy League football.

— Notre Dame’s seven rushing touchdowns in the win over Navy was the Irish’s most in a single game since 1992.

— Boston College’s Rolandan Finch rushed for 243 yards in the win over Maryland; he came in having rushed for 260 yards in the first seven games of the season.  Karma, I tell ya.  Karma.

— Syracuse was called for five personal fouls in their loss to Louisville — three in the first quarter, two in the fourth.

— New Mexico, which was the first team to fire their head coach this season, has been outscored 160-7 the past three games.

NEXT ON THE DOCKET

A snapshot look at next weekend’s top games.  Or, more specifically, next weekend’s only game that really matters:

No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama
Technically, this is one of a handful of big games next weekend.  Realistically, it’s the one and only game on the slate for a good portion of the country.  Not much at stake in Tuscaloosa in the first-ever regular season No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the SEC, if you consider a clear path to one of the two spots in the BcS title game “not much”.  Defense will be the overriding theme leading into the latest Game of the Week/Century/Millennium,  with the Tide ranking first in total and scoring defense and the Tigers right behind at No. 3 in both categories.  A more consistent offense plus and playing at home could give the Tide a slight edge, but bet against the Tigers anywhere at your own peril.  The only dog I have in this hunt?  A great game that comes close to living up the hype that has been and will be heaped upon it.

Big Ten pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

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The Big Ten won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports’ power conferences to yield to the pandemic.

The move announced Tuesday comes six day after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions.

But it was not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge

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President Donald Trump joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches Monday in the push to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

There was speculation that two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports and became the first school in the Bowl Subdivison to break from its league in doing so; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes had been taken by its presidents and chancellors on fall sports as of Monday afternoon and the powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among the group posting their thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPla. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

Old Dominion has stopped trying. The Virginia school canceled football and other fall sports less than a week after Conference USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown players can be safe after they return to school.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” he wrote. “I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football, but you also know that you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” added Sasse, a former college president. “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football.”

Players unite in push to save college season, create union

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Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players pushing for the opportunity to play this season despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”