It has already been quite a memorable football season in the Big Ten before any games have been played.
Since early July, the football schedules of Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten have been revised, then removed, then revisited after it was said they wouldn’t be, then revised again and finally restored.
Getting to OSU’s opener against Nebraska on Saturday in a mostly empty Ohio Stadium in a COVID-19 world has been a long, strange trip into the unknown. An unknown we still have gotten only part of the way through.
With improved testing for the coronavirus, there is hope that the nine-game schedule Big Ten teams have been given can be completed. And there is hope that at the end of those nine games, a Big Ten team will be one of the four teams in the College Football playoff.
That looked like a long shot until around a month ago.
First, the Big Ten announced July 9 that it would play only conference games this season, which carved a giant hole in the budgets of several Mid-American Conference schools.
Then, on Aug. 11, came the awkwardly handled announcement the Big Ten would not play football in 2020 because of the uncertainty of protecting the health and welfare of its athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eight days later, Big Ten commissioner and criticism magnet Kevin Warren said the decision to shut down the season had been overwhelmingly approved by the conference’s presidents and chancellors, and it “will not be revisited.”
At that point, Warren’s approval ratings among Big Ten football fans were running at a level below Herbert Hoover’s at the height of the Great Depression.
When the Pac-12 was the only other Power Five conference to opt out of playing football this fall, the Big Ten got some push back from Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa and the fan bases of those football programs.
Nebraska might have been the most vocal in its opposition. But nowhere was the resistance as strong or as organized as at Ohio State, where parents of the players demonstrated against the decision not to play outside Big Ten headquarters in suburban Chicago and in Columbus.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields even started an online petition, which more than 300,000 people signed.
Maybe more importantly, OSU athletic director Gene Smith, football coach Ryan Day and president Kristina Johnson worked tirelessly to have a football season.
Missing out on a chance to possibly play for a national championship and a projected $130 million hole in the athletic budget were factors in OSU urging the Big Ten to take another look at playing in 2020. So was watching the SEC, the Big 12, the ACC and Notre Dame begin to play games while Ohio State was sitting at home.
On Sept. 16, the Big Ten announced its presidents and chancellors had voted unanimously to bring football back, starting with seven conference games the weekend of Oct. 23-24.
“I think it’s definitely going to down in the history books for the way we fought back. We’re just hoping to have a great season on the field,” Fields said.
The season that looked like it might not happen is finally starting. Now the goal is to finish it. And to do that safely.