Big Ten football: Winter season gains momentum; 'full' fall 2021 schedule is high priority
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta, the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee, said Monday that it would be difficult to watch other conferences play football games this fall while his team doesn’t.
“Every Saturday, if that occurs, would be gut-wrenching as a student-athlete, as a coach, as an athletic director or a Hawkeye fan,” Barta said Monday afternoon. “I certainly don’t wish ill on anybody. I wish we could play as soon as possible; I want us to play as soon as possible.”
Barta spoke with media for nearly an hour, on the heels of Friday’s announcement to eliminate four sports programs — men’s and women’s swimming/diving, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis — after the 2020-21 season.
But this was also Barta’s first formal availability since the Big Ten Conference’s Aug. 11 decision to scrap the fall football season. Earlier Monday, the Hawkeyes were ranked No. 24 in the preseason Associated Press football poll — a meaningless mention, but a reminder that the Hawkeyes were expected to have a pretty strong team after a 10-3 season.
The Big Ten decision continues to be a hot topic two weeks later, in part because Iowa was among the schools that wanted to keep trying to play. Barta and UI president Bruce Harreld felt that the 10-game, conference-only schedule designed to start Sept. 5 could have been delayed as more information was gathered about the COVID-19 pandemic. The schedule included three open dates for flexibility, prior to a Dec. 5 title game.
“I was a supporter of continuing along that path,” Barta said. “That doesn’t mean that I have certainty on the pandemic, or I have certainty about whether we are going to be able to play sports soon. But it seemed to me we had a plan where we could push (the season) back.”
Football attention has now shifted to trying to play a winter or spring schedule, and Barta indicated what other reports from Big Ten cities have suggested — that the strongest momentum among conference leaders is to unveil a short season that starts in early January and wraps up by early March. That proposal would not include any games at Kinnick Stadium. Instead, games would be contested at indoor sites. The Big Ten, Barta said, is working with traditional television partners (Fox and ESPN) on what’s feasible.
A makeshift football season with off-campus games in January and February, Barta said, would ease some logistical congestion while the (still-on-as-planned) basketball and wrestling seasons crescendo toward March.
Of course, all that’s theoretical right now. College sports remain largely at the mercy of what happens with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Barta did make a notable revelation by saying one of the priorities of the Big Ten subcommittee in a winter/spring season would be to maintain a “full” fall 2021 schedule.
Six games in the winter? Eight games? The hope is to build six months between the end of a winter/spring season and the start of the 2021 fall slate. Iowa is currently scheduled to host Indiana on Sept. 4, 2021.
“One of the principles is to make sure our student-athletes are healthy going into (fall) 2021,” Barta said, “and we can play a full 12-game (regular-season) schedule plus a bowl game in (fall) 2021.”
A big part of Monday’s Zoom call was addressing expected $100 million in lost revenues. Barta said he anticipates his department borrowing roughly $75 million. A winter/spring football schedule could help reduce the size of the loan.
It’s been a challenging year, and the negative PR hit for the Big Ten will only get worse if the Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences play in relative safety this fall.
“I may not always agree with exactly everything’s that determined in the Big Ten,” Barta said. “But I love the conference. And we’re going to fight our way through this.”