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Trump talks to Big Ten about starting season

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Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren had a telephone call with President Donald Trump on Tuesday, after a White House representative reached out about having discussions concerning how the conference can return to playing college football as soon as possible.

While talking to reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Tuesday, Trump said the call with Warren was “very productive.”

“I think it was very productive about getting [the] Big Ten playing again and immediately,” Trump said. “Let’s see what happens. He’s a great guy. It’s a great conference, tremendous teams. We’re pushing very hard. … I think they want to play, and the fans want to see it, and the players have a lot at stake, including possibly playing in the NFL. You have a lot of great players in that conference.

“We had a very good conversation, very productive, and maybe we’ll be very nicely surprised. They had it closed up, and I think they’d like to see it open, along with a lot of other football that’s being played right now.”

In an earlier Tweet on Tuesday, Trump indicated the Big Ten’s plans to return were at the “one yard line!”

A Big Ten official said there was still a lot of work to do and emphasized that the league’s presidents and chancellors would have to approve any plans.

Sources told ESPN that several plans are being considered by the Big Ten’s Return to Competition Task Force — with the potential earliest start in late November or early January, or later next spring.

“Nothing has changed,” a Big Ten source told ESPN. “Nothing. We have to get all the medical questions answered before we can even bring back a plan to the presidents for approval.”

Later Tuesday, Purdue president Mitch Daniels issued a statement that echoed that sentiment and reiterated that the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall sports “was a collective one.”

“As you have seen, 28 of the 34 Division I conferences, although not yet three of the so called ‘Power 5’, were coming to the same discouraging conclusion,” the statement read. “And, to state the obvious, this had to be a collective action; it would have been impossible for Purdue to play, when many others were determined not to.”

Citing uncertainty in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Big Ten on Aug. 11 became the first Power 5 conference to postpone football and other fall sports with hopes of playing in the spring.

A conference source told ESPN that no formal plan to return has been presented yet to the university presidents and chancellors. While Big Ten athletic directors and coaches would like to play as soon as possible, the source said university presidents need to be assured that the league can mitigate their concerns about the unknown impact of COVID-19 on myocarditis, and there needs to be a conference-wide testing protocol that assures equal accessibility and viability at each campus.

Ohio State’s Kristina Johnson, one of three Big Ten presidents who voted against postponing the fall season, told NBC in Columbus that she’s “very hopeful that we’ll be playing football this fall.” She added that the fall technically goes until Dec. 20.

“We want to make sure our athletes get a shot because they’ve worked really hard and they deserve a shot to play,” Johnson said. “At the same time, we want to make sure that they’re safe.”

While the end of November remains a legitimate option to consider, the Big Ten’s actual return will depend on how quickly the athletic directors and medical advisory groups can present a plan to the presidents that will make them feel more comfortable about the risks involved in playing through the coronavirus pandemic.

A few hours after the Big Ten postponed football in early August, the Pac-12 announced that it was also pushing fall sports back to the spring. The other Power 5 conferences — the ACC, Big 12 and SEC — are still planning to play football this fall.

A Pac-12 spokesman told ESPN on Tuesday that White House officials hadn’t reached out to speak with commissioner Larry Scott.

On Monday, the Big Ten acknowledged that its presidents and chancellors voted 11-3 to postpone the fall season, and multiple sources told ESPN that Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State were the three schools that voted against postponing the season. The league said the vote was made “for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes.”

“The Big Ten Conference and its Return to Competition Task Force, on behalf of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C), are exhausting every resource to help student-athletes get back to playing the sports they love, at the appropriate time, in the safest and healthiest way possible,” the Big Ten said in a statement on Tuesday.

ESPN’s Heather Dinich contributed to this report.

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