Column: The Big Ten restart plan is almost as bad as UW’s

Image By: Big Ten Conference

I see you. I see you celebrating the triumphant return of Badger football, reposting BadgerBarstool’s instagram post on your story to show all 700 of your followers how much this means to you. You see the headline, “The Big Ten is BACK!” and can’t help but rejoice and crack a warm Hamm’s during your online lecture. 

I don’t get that satisfaction, because I actually read the plan, and I’m making that your problem now. #Sorrynotsorry.

In the first paragraph of their “well laid out plan,” the Big Ten is kind enough to let us know that this plan was unanimously approved by the Board of Presidents/Chancellors. Which means, yes, Chancellor Blank approved this plan. Nevermind the skyrocketing cases in Dane County, or the fact that the entirety of freshman dorms Witte and Sellery are quarantined. Or that Dane County executives are begging her to send students back home. Or even that Public Health Madison & Dane County released a statement today that noted “42 [Badger football] players and staff have already tested positive for COVID-19.” Football is here! You all like me now, right? No? Ok, what about this: Alexa, play “Jump Around!”

But enough eviscerating UW; our ed board did a good job of that. Let’s hop into what exactly makes the Big Ten’s plan so bad for both student-athletes and students in general.

The elephant in the room is the rapid antigen testing that is vital to the success of college sports right now. These kinds of tests are great: they are relatively accurate for a COVID-19 test and they get results back within hours rather than days. Big Ten players will be tested every day with these testing kits. Which is nice… for them.

The blame clearly isn’t on the athletes here, and if you need me to tell you that, you have some problems to deal with. But the idea that only the athletes who a) make up an extremely small part of the student population — only around 170 players and staff out of over 40,000 UW undergraduates — and b) have a multimillion dollar money-making machine built on their backs get access to rapid tests shows the Big Ten’s priorities. They are significantly more concerned with the money that comes with college football — TV contracts, merchandise, bowl games — than the safety of their players, not to mention the rest of us schlubs.

The part of the statement on heart conditions makes this even more clear. Big Ten athletes will have greater access to cardiac screening, which is nice, but there are no plans to actually take care of the athletes that develop COVID-related heart issues. Their only plan is to “establish a cardiac registry” that tracks the symptoms and “will attempt to answer many of the unknowns” about COVID-related heart conditions. There is an enormous difference between caring about your athletes and using them as guinea pigs for the rest of the country.

(Side note: It would be a really bad look, given the clear financial greed, if someone went in front of, I dunno, a Senate committee and gave a written statement that included the line, “we’re not running sports to primarily make money.” Which is exactly what Rebecca Blank did yesterday.)

This isn’t even half of it. The schedule doesn’t include space for bye weeks. The team positive case threshold is just five percent, meaning that if five percent of the players or staff contract the coronavirus, practices halt and they cannot play their next game. Most other conferences have a threshold of ten percent. Positive cases could, and probably will, jeopardize a number of games. 

This sucks. I love college football so much it hurts. I can’t watch any other conferences right now because of how much my heart aches for the Big Ten. It’s even worse for the athletes and coaches that put countless hours into building their teams and preparing to play in the off-season. But the harsh reality is that Big Ten schools lost the right to lament the lack of college football when they decided to bring back thousands of 18-year olds into packed dorms and expected them to sit in their rooms for 24 hours a day. With that decision, they chose tuition money over college football money. This greedy desire to have their cake and eat it too has already put both the athletes and the general student population in legitimate danger. But they won’t stop until they can cash their checks.

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