Normally before football season, Big Ten Network lead studio host Dave Revsine would be rolling through the conference on a bus for 18 days, stopping at each team’s training camp to watch practice and talk to coaches and players.
The coronavirus pandemic has nixed those plans this year, and it almost nixed the season. But last week the Big Ten released its schedule — the third version of the year — and will kick off an eight-game regular season Oct. 24.
The conference’s path to this point was anything but linear. On Aug. 4, it scrapped its initial schedule and unveiled a 10-game conference-only slate. A week later, it scrapped that and postponed the season until possibly the spring. On Sept. 16, the fall season was back on.
All the while, the Big Ten came under fire for not playing while the ACC, Big 12 and SEC pressed on. Commissioner Kevin Warren also took criticism for not being transparent about the process that led to the postponement in the first place.
Perhaps all’s well that ends well, but even Revsine, the face of the conference’s TV network, knows it was a rough time for the Big Ten.
“I don’t think the message was always conveyed as clearly as it could have been,” Revsine said. “The rationale was basically we’re not going to put players on the field if we think there’s any chance that they have COVID. And until [the Big Ten] could get testing to a place where they could essentially guarantee that everyone who went out there was COVID negative, they weren’t going to move forward.
“When they announced that they were coming back, I thought they absolutely nailed it. I think there was an acknowledgement that the communication could have been better in August, and in order to do that, they articulated very clearly the decisions that they made.”
With those decisions out of the way, BTN can focus on planning for a season that will be filled with challenges. It already is producing shows with as few people as possible in its Chicago studios, and those personnel restrictions figure to carry into the network’s on-site game coverage.
Revsine still will host “BTN Tailgate” with analysts Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith on Saturday mornings, but like the bus tour, it won’t be traveling this season. The trio will be in the studio instead of on a campus.
“There are going to be strict limitations for how all of that will work, and I think they’re still trying to figure that out, as to how many people can be in particular places at once and how you distance people from one another,” Revsine said. “That’s still all evolving.”
So is the TV schedule, which is being hammered out by the Big Ten and its broadcast partners, ABC/ESPN, BTN and Fox (which owns 51% of BTN). Normally, creating the TV schedule takes months in the offseason, but the parties are down to weeks.
The networks choose their games through a draft. Fox has the first pick overall but not the first pick every week. It has revealed two of its games: Nebraska-Ohio State on Oct. 24 and Michigan-Ohio State on Dec. 12 (the obvious No. 1 pick), both at 11 a.m.
Fox aired six Ohio State regular-season games last year, and it figures to give the Buckeyes a good run this year.
“I think they’re going to be really, really good,” Revsine said. “I think Ohio State, at least on paper and certainly what we saw last year on the field, was better than everyone else. But I don’t think the gap is quite as wide.
“I also think it’s such an unusual season. You’ve had different teams who’ve had to halt what they’d been doing because of COVID tests. There’s such an inconsistency in terms of the level of preparation on the field that teams have been able to have. I think it’s in ways that we may not know right now that could really impact the season.”
On those bus trips over the years, Revsine always has marveled at how hard the teams work, even the ones with little chance. When the season was postponed, he was struck by all their efforts going for naught.
“I understand the reasons that they did it, and it makes perfect sense in hindsight, but I felt so bad for those players and coaches who put so much into it and for those fans,” Revsine said. “I feel so good now that they’ve reached something they feel is safe and that we can move forward because it’s been such a difficult time.”