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A fall return for BigTen football? Here's what we know, and what's at stake

University presidents are expected to vote on an October return some time in the coming days.

For days now, reports that the Big Ten is reconsidering a fall football season have been growing, but as the fans wait for news, the medical, financial, political ramifications appear to be weighing heavily on decision makers.

From the moment the Big Ten announced it was postponing the season in August, there was push back from prominent coaches, some in direct opposition to their presidents.

There was also political pressure from President Trump, who inserted himself into the debate and even publicized a phone call he made to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren.

But according to multiple reports from the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Sports and the Dan Patrick Show, to name a few, the biggest reason for a potential reversal comes down to improved safety protocols and the potential for rapid saliva tests that could help teams and players quickly identify cases of COVID-19.

"I'm told that you can expect Big Ten football," Dan Patrick said during his radio program on Monday. "I don't know how many schools are going to play. It is going to be a contentious vote, is what I was told."

Dr. Bill Roberts, a professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, says the return of the NFL and other college conferences do seem to be giving the Big Ten confidence.

"You know, at the professional level and the college level where they're a little more controlled, I don't think we've seen huge outbreaks or huge repercussions," Roberts said.

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But that's not the only consideration. Roberts says the long term impacts of COVID remain unknown, especially a heart complication known as myocarditis. A paper published on Friday in JAMA, studied 26 athletes at Ohio State who tested postive for COVID-19. Four of them, or 15 percent, showed signs of scarring of the heart. 

But Roberts says that's a small sample and questions remain.

"We don't know what the outcome of that 15% is," Dr. Roberts said. "I don't think we'll know those outcomes until people start competing and we start to see what happens to the kids who have had it who are now on the playing field and exerting themselves. I think that's the big concern, for many who are involved in making these decision."

But how those decisions are being made is still a mystery for some. Last week, as the UofM cut men's tennis, gymnastics and indoor and outdoor track and field due, even some on the Board of Regents expressed frustration about not knowing how President Joan Gabel might vote on a Big Ten season.

"Our President did not inform the board in terms of what is going on in this," said board member Michael Hsu. "I think that is a problem that we need to address as we go forward."

"We just spent the better part of the morning talking about, potentially nine figures in losses for athletic departments and the idea that the board has not been a part of that... I guess I would share his frustration in that regard," said Board Member Darrin Rosha.

"It's become a joke," Hsu said. "Every day in the media and I just feel that the University of Minnesota needs to be on record in regards to what direction we think we're going to be in."

The increasing pressure for answers is yet another reason why Dr. Roberts says he wouldn't be surprised to see a season begin in October.

"I think it's possible they could change course at this point," he said. "I hope it's not just money. I hope people consider the safety of the athletes and the people taking care of those athletes when they make their final decision."