Big Ten officials dubbed the football schedule released to the public Wednesday morning “Jenga 41.”
The number represents the slate’s 41st iteration. Jenga because, like the classic stacking game, blocks can be moved from the bottom and middle to the top.
Of course, one wrong move, one slip of the finger, and every piece comes crashing down.
“This epitomizes ‘fluid situation,’ ” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren told the Chicago Tribune. “Just because we release a schedule doesn’t mean we are going to play.”
Warren, who also spoke to Yahoo Sports and The Athletic in advance of the schedule release, is under no illusions that all 70 Big Ten games will go off as scheduled.
“It won’t be a straight line,” he said.
Here are 10 things to know about the 10-game schedule and new Big Ten safety protocols, also released Wednesday.
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Every team is slated to open the weekend of Sept. 3-5 and play 10 games over 12 weeks with the goal of ending by Thanksgiving. But if any or all Week 1 games need to be moved, they can be shifted to Week 13, which is Nov. 28.
Rutgers is scheduled to host Nebraska in Week 1, but is there any way the Scarlet Knights, suffering through a COVID-19 outbreak that reportedly has infected 28 players, can be ready in four-plus weeks?
Big Ten Assistant Commissioner Kerry Kenny said the key was to create a “collapsible” schedule that allows for shifting around should games be postponed because of quarantines.
The Big Ten intends to get a jump on Labor Day weekend with Ohio State-Illinois on Thursday, Sept. 3, in Champaign. Wisconsin hosts Indiana the next night.
Buckeyes players circled the Michigan game before they even knew the date, which is Oct. 24 (Week 8).
“I just want to play them and really just beat the brakes off them, for real,” quarterback Justin Fields said Tuesday during a conference call to introduce the Ohio State captains. “That’s all I have to say.”
The Buckeyes normally crush -- er, play -- the Wolverines on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
If the game has to be delayed, both teams are scheduled to be off Week 11, which is Nov. 14.
That would be the first Saturday in December -- Dec. 5. Also possible: Dec. 12 and Dec. 19.
Kenny said the Big Ten’s first games could be pushed back as far as Oct. 3 and still allow for a Dec. 19 championship game in Indianapolis.
Northwestern added Michigan (home) to a slate of Penn State (road), Michigan State (road) and Maryland (home).
Illinois added Penn State (home) to Ohio State (home), Indiana (road) and Rutgers (road).
Ultimately the athletic directors settled on a less sizzling Week 1 slate -- Michigan-Purdue might be the most attractive national game -- because of the threat it would need to be moved to the final week.
Six Big Ten programs have had to pause workouts because of positive COVID-19 tests. Rutgers players will remain in quarantine through Saturday. The mother of an Indiana football player said her son endured “14 days of hell” battling the coronavirus and might have heart issues.
“Were we close to canceling a season?” Warren asked, repeating the question. “This is a day-to-day journey. We’re adamant about making sure that the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes is at the top of our list.”
Then what would Warren say to those who contend that if health, safety and wellness were at the top of the list, there would be no attempt to play football, a sport that does not allow for social distancing?
“I would say talk to some of our student-athletes,” he replied. “The majority of them I’ve talked to have made it very clear: They want to participate in sports in the fall so long as it is done in a safe and healthy manner.”
Which is easy. Because the NCAA guidelines call for one test a week. The Big Ten requires a minimum of two PCR (Polymerise Chain Reaction) tests via nasal swab for players, coaches and certain staff. An independent testing company -- Warren said the conference is finalizing its selection -- will supply results.
Schools are also welcome to supplement those weekly tests.
“Participation is optional,” Warren said. “Our student-athletes will still receive their scholarship. From the bottom of my heart, if any of them do not feel safe on our college campuses or participating in sports and they feel like they want to be home, they should be. Their position on their team will not be impacted.”