After a period of unrest created by a sudden postponement last month, Big Ten football is returning to the fall stage.
The league will resume play the weekend of Oct. 23-24, attributing the dramatic reinstatement to improved daily testing for COVID-19 and better cardiac screening to detect heart inflammation that could result from the viral infection.
The Big Ten's reversal follows a tidal wave of resistance that came in the form of protests, a petition, political movements, social-media campaigns and even a lawsuit.
But as the season has been revived, questions remain.
The backlash in response to the August decision to postpone sports has been pronounced and unrelenting. Protests, marches and petitions have been launched. A lawsuit was filed against the conference. And amidst all this controversy, football started elsewhere as the ACC and Big 12 began play last weekend.
While there have been COVID-19 outbreaks within teams across the country, reports of players having serious medical issues related to the virus have been minimal. The concern about myocarditis appears unclear.
Still, Wisconsin's football team is in the middle of a two-week break from practice as the campus has struggled to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. Earlier this month, Maryland also shut down athletic activities for similar reasons before restarting them this week. In East Lansing, all students were asked Saturday to self-quarantine following a dramatic spike in cases.
In this cloudy environment, where uncertainty prevails, the access to better testing gave the conference the confidence to proceed with football.
What does it mean for the Big Ten, college football at large?
If the Big Ten moved forward with its plans to start competition in the early months of 2021 or the final weeks of this year, the conference members would have been excluded from the College Football Playoff and the opportunity to win a national championship.
The decision to reinstate the season and begin Oct. 24 allows the league to move forward along a similar timetable as the SEC, ACC and Big 12. Now, the Big Ten is almost back on even footing with the majority of the Power Five establishment.
For coaches, this was important.
They were worried about the recruiting and logistical hurdles that would be created by a move toward spring football. In the eyes of many, the notion of playing two seasons in 2021 didn’t seem feasible.
With football back in the fall, the conference achieves a bit of normalcy after a chaotic end to the summer.
Is there enough time to get ready for the season?
At the beginning of September, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh told his players to be prepared to play in early October.
Wolverines tackle Ryan Hayes said it may have been one of motivational ploys by Harbaugh to buoy the morale of his team.
But U-M hasn’t stopped practicing since the shutdown and Harbaugh’s expectation then has come close to matching the current reality.
“We could be ready tomorrow, frankly," quarterback Dylan McCaffrey said at a Sept. 5 march protesting the Big Ten’s postponement. "[If] they told us we got a Sunday game, we’d be ready tomorrow.”
Michigan may be set to go. But other programs will be more challenged to launch their seasons. Wisconsin is on hiatus. Maryland was on pause earlier this month before resuming workouts. MSU has spent the majority replicating its offseason training program with a focus on strength and conditioning.
The differing circumstances faced by the individual programs could be mitigated because the Big Ten membership will have 37 days to ramp up before they take the field for the opener. That exceeds the 29-day window between the original timetable of an Aug. 7 start of preseason camp and the set of games on Sept. 5.
What's the schedule?
Alvarez, who has led the Big Ten's scheduling sub-committee on returning to play, said in a news conference on Wednesday morning that a schedule should be released later this week.
But that schedule will feature nine games for each team. Eight of those games will be announced before the season begins, and the ninth week, "Champions Week," as Alvarez called it, will feature the Big Ten championship game, and cross-division matchup for all the other teams, based on how they finished in the division (East second place vs. West second place, third place vs. third place, etc.).
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: As Big Ten football returns, there are many questions to answer