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3 questions that could be answered at Big Ten Media Days
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3 questions that could be answered at Big Ten Media Days

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A collection of the most interesting quotes and thoughts from Badgers players and coaches during spring practices.

Cautious optimism might be the prevailing feeling inside Lucas Oil Stadium this week when football coaches, players and reporters gather Thursday and Friday for Big Ten Conference Media Days.

After a trying season in which the conference was in the spotlight for its handling of the pandemic and outbreaks that followed, fans and teams alike are ready to turn the page and play a full season.

A new year brings new questions for the league, both in terms of procedures off the field and what could happen on it. Here are three important questions that could be answered at Big Ten Media Days:

Will there be conference COVID protocols again?

Big Ten football players went through six-days-per-week testing and a conference-wide method of handling positive cases as they arose. Among other restrictions, athletes couldn’t play in a game for 21 days after testing positive.

A number of programs, including the University of Wisconsin, experienced outbreaks that caused players to miss games and some games to be canceled. UW and other Big Ten teams have had less restrictions since the spring, especially as vaccines became more available nationwide. There are five Big Ten campuses mandating the COVID vaccine for all students: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Rutgers. The Badgers play the Illini, Wolverines and Scarlet Knights this season.

Ann Sheehy, a member of the UW Athletic Board who has worked with the Big Ten on its response to the pandemic, said during a board meeting last month that the conference won't test vaccinated individuals and that other protocol decisions will be made at the institution level. 

Last year, games canceled due to COVID complications were deemed no-contests across college football, but the Big 12 and SEC have said COVID-related cancellations will be considered forfeits in their leagues. If the Big Ten intends on having league-wide mandates regarding COVID, Media Days would be the time to make them known.

How involved in NIL oversight will the Big Ten be?

To the surprise of some, college athletics didn’t explode when athletes were allowed to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) on July 1. The new rules are still in their infancy, but to this point no Power Five conferences have stepped into the fray in terms of attempting to govern NIL deals.

The NCAA and the Power Five leagues are awaiting federal legislation on NIL to level the playing field for all collegiate athletes, but for now a patchwork of state laws and university policies are overseeing NIL. UW athletic director Chris McIntosh said his department’s policy is temporary until Congress approves a law.

But could the Big Ten — a conference that fancies itself a leader in college sports as a whole — be the first to implement league-wide rules governing NIL? Or could it somehow foster a cross-institutional platform for athletes to join together on deals?

It’s likely the conference will continue allowing its programs to oversee NIL without much involvement, but in a time of change in college sports nothing is off the table.

Are the Buckeyes vulnerable?

Ohio State has won the conference championship each of the past four seasons and is coming off an appearance in the College Football Playoff title game. The Buckeyes’ institutional stability with athletic director Gene Smith and coach Ryan Day rivals that of any program in the country and brought in the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, trailing only defending champion Alabama.

Still, if there’s a season that Ohio State could be knocked off its perch atop the Big Ten, it’s this one. The Buckeyes will be starting either a redshirt freshman or a true freshman at quarterback, and they’ll need to replace seven starters on defense.

The talent gap between OSU and the rest of the conference still exists, but if there’s a year in which a lack of experience could plague the Buckeyes, it’s 2021.

Still, getting any Big Ten coach or player to agree that there’s an opening this season will be a tough task. No one wants to anger the conference’s top dog and get punished for it on the field.


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