College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).

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MEMORIAL STADIUM IN CHAMPAIGN ON TUESDAY, SEPT. 15, 2020

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The moment every Big Ten football fan has been waiting for arrived Wednesday morning when the conference said "Game On."

Delayed more than a month, Big Ten football will now kick off the weekend of Oct. 23-24 with a nine-game schedule for each team.

Yes, it's exciting. Especially for the players who worked so hard to reach the Big Ten. And the coaches who spent long hours to make it the nation's best conference.

It is also treacherous. While most other leagues have started play, there has been a cost. Both in terms of safety and reputation.

Players have contracted the virus, for some teams in large numbers. Programs have been forced to put their seasons on pause. Virginia Tech has already delayed two games, first because of the opponents' COVID-19 issues and the second because of its own. You won't find the Hokies in my initial Associated Perss Top 25 because I'm not certain they will ever actually get on the field.

We hope there are no long-term illnesses, but that is impossible to predict.

One reason the Big Ten postponed the season was the dearth of answers on the long-term impact of COVID-19. Hard to believe the league leaders knows a lot more than they knew on Aug. 11, when it decided to halt the season.

Plenty of backlash has circulated since the initial decision. Some deserved (really poor job by the Big Ten explaining the decision to postpone last month). And some ridiculous (accusations the league didn't play for political reasons).

No question there was pressure on the Big Ten to change its mind. Most of it came from within, Ohio State holding the loudest microphone.

Of course, Ohio State wants to play ... now. The Buckeyes have the best team in the conference and a great chance to make the College Football Playoff.

Buckeyes fans are upset about the loss of stars Shaun Wade and Wyatt Davis, who opted out to prepare for their NFL careers.

Good luck to both of them, a sentiment I hope is shared by the almost-over-the-edge Ohio State fans.

Why do they think it is best for Wade and Davis to risk their futures to play at Ohio State for free? Better question: What would you do if it was your son?

That's a choice best made by the players and their families, with the advice and support of their coaches. Sorry fans, your vote doesn't count.

It's a gamble

The Big Ten's reversal has to be about the people involved.

Pat on the back to Illinois and other medical folks in the conference who came up with a way to test more comprehensively.

Big Ten football won't be as safe as going to the grocery store at 7 a.m., but it will be close.

Still, there is the potential for disaster. We have seen on college campuses across the country how easy it is to spread COVID-19.

Assume Illinois players, and those at other schools, will be told to be behave. With endless, countless reminders. A mistake or two could be much more costly than a Big Ten loss. It could be life-altering.

The good news for Illinois is the roster is filled with upperclassmen. It's a big reason Lovie Smith was so looking forward to the season.

Count on Doug Kramer, Nate Hobbs, Jake Hansen, Josh Imatorbhebhe and the rest to set positive examples.

Lesson for life

COVID-19 has put football in perspective.

I'm about to write something crazy: The results don't matter. More than ever, simply playing games means success.

Of course, the teams will try. Sure, the coaches will complain about the fairness of the schedules. That's part of the deal.

Everyone should take a deep breath, exhale, repeat. Are you still here? Are you healthy? Then shut up about it.

Balance. Perspective. Appreciation. Those are the words that matter most moving forward.

Understand, the 2020 season is like no other. Before or after. It feels like a decade packed into one season.

For everyone involved: players, coaches, staff, fans, media, it will be season that is so much more important than the rest.

It has been a test. One we haven't passed yet. And one that can't be underestimated.

The Big Ten took a step Wednesday morning. That's it. There are so many more to go. The four weeks between now and the opener will provide a string of obstacles.

When the games start, the discipline coaches talk so much about turns critical. On the field as always. And off it moreso than ever.

Hope to see you on the other side.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-393-8248 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.