Rutgers football: Return of Scarlet Knights underscores larger issues for Big Ten

Raiqwon O'Neal, Rutgers Scarlet Knights. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
Raiqwon O'Neal, Rutgers Scarlet Knights. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images) /
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Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. Rutgers. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Aside from the coronavirus itself, there are many legal and competition issues that will determine when the Rutgers Scarlet Knights will retake the field.

Will there be Rutgers football in 2020? The short answer is no one knows at this point. The long answer is so much more complicated.

On Monday, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren kicked the can down the road. He extended the conference’s COVID-19 induced suspension of all sports activities through June 1. Warren also said the conference is still six to eight weeks away on a decision about football. At that time, they will decide to continue with the moratorium or announce some sort of plan to restart athletics at its 14-member institutions.

It’s prudent not to make any hasty decisions at this point because so much is still unknown about the virus. Additionally, the Big Ten covers 11 states. Each of those states is unique as to how the coronavirus has affected it. As of Tuesday, New Jersey (Rutgers) has recorded the second-most cases in the country. Illinois (University of Illinois, Northwestern) was fourth; Pennsylvania (Penn State), sixth; and Michigan (University of Michigan, Michigan State), seventh.

Those four states represent just under a quarter of all reported COVID-19 cases in the United States and nearly half of the Big Ten Members. Conversely, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska combined have less than half the number of confirmed cases as Illinois does. That’s a huge disparity. Whether or not the Hawkeyes or Scarlet Knights can start practice on June 1 is second to the health and safety of student-athletes.

The conference, for their part, believes they will be one unified body about resuming play. That’s going to be very difficult. Each state and, more specifically, each school will make their own decision about when to reopen their campuses.