Northwestern Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald discusses strategy during a practice. Fitzgerald spoke in support of the season returning when the announcement was made. Photo Credit: Northwestern Athletics

After initially canceling the football season on Aug. 11, the Big Ten changed course a month later and announced on Sept. 16 they will be returning to play on the weekend of Oct. 23.

The announcement came after much deliberations and protests from university administrations, with the University of Nebraska being the most outspoken of them, as well as different player protests; Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields’ petition to allow him to play his senior season got over 300,000 signatures. After more discussions on the topic and presentations from medical officials on new rapid-testing protocols, the Big Ten announced their return to play, along with their new policies to prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading.

Northwestern was a full participant in these discussions, as University President Morton Schapiro served as the chair of the Return to Competition Task Force Committee and voted with the Council of Presidents and Chancellors to resume the season. Northwestern will now begin their season on Oct. 24 against Maryland at Ryan Field.

Some are happy that football is coming back; others are offering concerns and worries over players’ safety. Like most of the country, North by Northwestern’s sports editors offered their takes on what’s sure to be an important decision for the coming months.

Jordan Landsberg:

I wholeheartedly agree that the Big Ten and President Schapiro made the right decision. When the Big Ten initially announced on Aug. 11 that fall sports, including all regular-season contests and the Big Ten Championship and Tournaments, were postponed due to the ongoing health and safety concerns posed by COVID-19, the decision was met with immediate criticism and backlash, rightfully so in my opinion.

Some called out the hypocrisy of Commissioner Kevin Warren, as his son Powers went back to school to play football as a redshirt junior at Mississippi State. Fans and players of the Big Ten from around the country expressed their displeasure with the decision, as well as the fact that they were apparently not consulted and were never given a full reason as to why the season was postponed.

Fast forward to mid-September, when intense calls for the conference to bring back fall sports quickly erupted as soon as other Power 5 and smaller conferences smoothly began their seasons. On Sept. 16, the Big Ten reversed courses and announced that football and other fall sports would return, as they outlined the updated COVID-19 protocols. After what was a steep drop off in production from the 2018 season to the 2019 season, both Northwestern football and the fans want to prove that the ’Cats are not a team to be messed with.

Being back in Evanston right now is just simply not the same. Buildings we used to ‘live in’ look foreign and empty, and going to the lakefill just hits differently now. Instead of gathering with friends, looking out at the beautiful lake, going to the lake is our chance to escape our new reality. But, with news that Big Ten football will be back, things are starting to feel a bit more normal. Being here the first couple of weeks without any semblance of what fall typically is like at Northwestern, students and fans are thrilled to welcome back football.

Given the fact that we only get four years in college, it’s reassuring to many of us that we’ll still get to experience football this year. The Big Ten (and Morty) for sure made the right decision to bring football back — already, you can sense the excitement on campus.

Northwestern football players line up for sprints outside the Kellogg School of Management. Some fans are hoping the return of Big Ten football will give them the chance to keep living their college experience. Photo Credit: Northwestern Athletics

Justine Banbury:

There has been lots of speculation about why the Big Ten reversed their decision to have a college football season. Some people thought the change had financial reasoning, while others believed there were political pressures. Parents are upset the conference is focusing on football games when many schools cannot figure out how to let their students even get back on campus. Regardless of whether fans think the choice was correct, the simple fact is, the decision was always inevitable.

The Big Ten is the middle child of the Power 5 conferences. They aren’t the successful, power-hungry first born, who leads the country with football domination. They aren’t the spoiled youngest sibling either, who rides on their reputation to get what they want. The Big Ten is in the solid middle, with the potential to be great, but never getting attention from the fans like it deserves.

That’s something Big Ten administrators are constantly trying to change. Strengthening the conference, increasing revenue and maintaining consistency would give the conference the spotlight it needs to get out of other conference’s shadow. So if people thought the Commissioner was going to sit back and watch as the Big Ten’s biggest competitors played games this fall, they were comically wrong.

How could Kevin Warren, whose job is to make the conference more successful and relevant, explain to athletes that he could not find a way to make football feasible when half of the country could? It would have reversed decades of work, sidelining his biggest stars and forcing them to watch their successful siblings take all the attention. He knew he needed to find a way. It was never a matter of right or wrong, it was a question of when and how.

'Cats quarterback Andrew Marty warms up while wearing a mask at practice. The mask is a reminder in order for a season to happen, Big Ten teams must practice safe protocols at all times. Photo Credit: Northwestern Athletics

Coop Daley:

I’ll be completely honest. I’m really torn on this decision. I like the idea of football coming back and Northwestern playing their best football, but when you look at it logistically, it just seems like a nightmare.

Let’s start with the positives: I really think the ’Cats have a better shot than a lot of people say. The fact that they won’t have to play Penn State is a huge plus, and if they can just hang on long enough to compete with the top dogs in our division (i.e. Minnesota and Wisconsin) they could easily snag a postseason berth at the end.

What’s more, it does give a chance for the seniors to have their swan song, including the graduate transfers just arriving like Peyton Ramsey; it gives the ’Cats a chance to keep their process going, and ensure further success down the road.

Now for the obvious: this season is like a nightmare logistically. First of all, you’re not going to avoid an outbreak forever; we’ve already seen this happen with Notre Dame and the SEC, as they’ve already undergone outbreaks and had to shut games down or postpone them to later dates. The Big Ten won’t have the luxury of postponing, as they jam packed 9 games in 9 weeks to slip under the postseason deadline. It just doesn’t make sense.

On top of that all, it doesn’t seem like “close monitoring” will be enough, especially when you consider how many cases of myocarditis are hiding right under their noses. In fact, Northwestern football actually put out a statement on Twitter when the season was first canceled explaining how their coach Randy Walker was diagnosed with the disease in 2004 and later was killed by it in 2006.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad football is returning. But the fact is the conference is relying on a whole lot of things to go right, and frankly, if you expect things to go well they never do.

Just ask Jim Harbaugh.