Future of Big Ten's fall football schedule drags into Tuesday: What we're hearing

First the Mid-American Conference called off fall sports Saturday.

Then their brethren in the Big Ten appeared set to join them, multiple sources at multiple Big Ten schools told the Free Press on Monday morning and afternoon, confirming the conference would cancel the upcoming football season for this fall.

“It’s done,” one high-level source said.

Then something changed, akin to an inexplicable muffed punt being returned for a winning touchdown with 10 seconds left.

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Spartan Stadium on the campus in East Lansing on Monday, August 10, 2020.

Reports of a vote among Big Ten presidents Sunday to shut down the season got watered down as unofficial polling. Rumors of a second straight day of Big Ten presidents meeting turned into a call with athletic directors. Politicians threw out grandiose statements in support of playing, while medical experts warned of more dangers. And ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said the Big Ten season would be delayed, while saying many options are on the table and calling the situation "fluid."

The question of whether there will be a Big Ten football season drags into Tuesday as the conference prepares to reckon with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Free Press sources on Monday evening remained adamant nothing has changed since Sunday’s presidents meeting, and that the Big Ten still plans to make the cancellation of sports for this fall official Tuesday. If that happens, it would mark the first time football would not be held during the fall in the 125 years of the conference.

Jeff Seidel: Big Ten football canceling will be gut punch. I wish they were able to wait longer ]

Multiple sources said presidents voted 12-2 to end the season, though the Big Ten said Monday afternoon no official vote had taken place. SiriusXM host Dan Patrick, who first reported the 12-2 vote, said on his radio show Iowa and Nebraska were the two schools in favor of playing. Michigan and Michigan State were in favor of not playing this fall, sources said.

The sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. However, the situation publicly continued to grow more and more fluid throughout Monday, with vocal dissenters from coaches, players and politicians — sometimes morphed into one — continuing to challenge that assertion.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day shakes hands with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh after the game at Michigan Stadium, Nov. 30, 2019. Ohio State won, 56-27.

Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, Ohio State's Ryan Day, and Nebraska's Scott Frost were among the coaches lobbying for the season to commence this fall, with Frost saying his school would try to play regardless of what the Big Ten decided.

Harbaugh ended his statement, released by the university, with the hashtags: #WeWantToPlay and #WeWantToCoach. And Day said on Twitter: "Swinging as hard as we possibly can right now for these players!! This isn't over!"

With Big Ten's fate pending, coaches in rare position: Totally out of control ]

Former Ohio State player and Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) told Sports Illustrated he wants a season, hours after President Trump tweeted for college football to be played.

“I personally think it’s a big mistake for the kids,” Gonzalez told SI. “To have the experience ripped away with no say and at the last minute, it feels wrong.”

Trump and Gonzalez joined Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who earlier in the day sent a letter to Big Ten presidents obtained by SI that said, “We should not cancel college football.”

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that's absolutely true; it's always true," Sasse wrote. "But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18-to-22-year-olds will be if there isn't a season.

“Canceling the fall season would mean closing down socially distanced, structured programs for these athletes. Young men will be pushed away from universities that are uniquely positioned to provide them with testing and health care.”

After the backlash, Ohio State's president-elect Kristina Johnson reportedly told she would not vote to cancel the season. She did not take part in the initial vote, the report said. 

Fans cheer as the Michigan football team takes the field at Michigan Stadium for a game against Wisconsin in Ann Arbor, Oct, 13, 2018.

Meanwhile, doctors told ESPN that COVID-19-related myocarditis — which is inflammation of the heart muscle — already has been found in at least five Big Ten athletes, one of whom is Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney, whose father, Todd, played football for Michigan State in the 1990s.

Feeney and his family have been outspoken about the health dangers players are potentially facing. His mother, Deborah Rucker, wrote an impassioned message imploring the college football world to take the virus seriously, and Brady Feeny took to Twitter on Monday morning urging schools and players “to listen to our medical experts.”

“Covid-19 is serious,” he wrote. “I never thought that I would have serious health complications from this virus, but look at what happened.”

MSU linebacker Marcel Lewis, who opted out Saturday, said he lost a family member to the virus and doesn't want to risk play. Offensive tackle Justin Stevens, who also opted out Saturday, said he has a respiratory condition that could make him high risk. A number of other players around the Big Ten — including Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Purdue wideout Rondale Moore — also announced they would not play this season and begin preparation for the 2021 NFL draft.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and one of the members of the group advising the NCAA on COVID-19, told the Free Press on Saturday a college football season no longer appeared feasible.

“When we were trying to think about ways to make it safe, we were at a time when there was kind of more control of the virus, and you've got less control of the virus now than we had several months earlier during when the stay at home orders were just starting to be lifted,” Adalja said. “And then the other thing that's made it much more difficult is football is a contact sport, which is going to require some amount of testing of players. The turnaround times for for outpatient testing are really unacceptable for being able to safely clear somebody to play.

"When you have this type of problem with testing, where it might take days to get a result back, it really makes it extremely challenging for this to occur."

Both MSU president Samuel Stanley (immunology and infectious diseases) and Michigan president Mark Schlissel (immunology and internal medicine) are medical doctors.

Michigan State football players go through an off-day walk-through on the MSU practice field on the campus in East Lansing on Monday, August 10, 2020.

On Monday, Michigan State football moved its scheduled off day from Tuesday to Monday because of the uncertainty of the 2020 season, three people with direct knowledge of the situation told the Free Press. The program still held its scheduled off-day walk-through.  Iowa also canceled Monday's 11 a.m. practice, according to the Des Moines Register. And Purdue reportedly rescheduled its media availability. 

Also Monday, the Mountain West became the second Football Bowl Subdivision conference to call off fall sports, with a hope to return to the field in the spring.

Early Monday morning, players across the nation began uniting with the hashtag: 'WeWantToPlay.' Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds, who helped organize a unity statement among Big Ten players last week, told the Free Press early Monday that he hoped the movement "can save fall college sports in general."

"Obviously, you know there are gonna be risks with playing sports this fall, especially in the midst of COVID-19," he said. "But I think, as athletes, we feel that if the schools are unified and uniform in doing everything in their power to ensure our well-being and safety that that's a risk that a lot of people are willing to take."