Some normalcy returns to Big 10 media days

INDIANAPOLIS — “Have you stayed here before?” the woman said as she checked me into my hotel on Wednesday.“
Yes,” I said, and just left it at that, because how do you explain that the last time you were here, you checked out on a day when it felt like the world was crashing?
The last time I was at this hotel was on March 12, 2020. I left my room in the morning to head downtown for the Big Ten Tournament with the feeling that everything was tenuous, that everything was about to be shut down. I was back a few hours later to write about how the COVID-19 pandemic had forced the cancellation of the tournament.
By the time I checked out later that afternoon, the NCAA basketball tournaments were cancelled. By the time I stopped to eat dinner, every college sport for the rest of the academic year was cancelled. By the time I got home, every professional league had either shut down or was close to making that decision.
So I’m back at the Delta Hotels near the airport, because Thursday and Friday are Big Ten football media days, and if I’m going to be here I might as well take this thing full circle.
It was my first time on Interstate 74 heading east since I drove to Indianapolis the day before everything got cancelled. Traffic was light all the way to Indianapolis, and even I-465, the behemoth expressway that circles Indy and is always jammed with cars and trucks, was an easy drive.
It was an eerie trip that day, punctuated by listening to AM radio reports of office buildings in Chicago shutting down, how the conference basketball tournaments being held that weekend were going to be played without fans, and then the news that the World Health Organization had made its pandemic declaration.
We’ve come a long way since then.
I still have masks in my computer bag, but I’ve been told I won’t need them at the events the next two days because I’m fully vaccinated.
We have full football schedules of 12 games — nine Big Ten games and three nonconference matchups. All 14 conference coaches and three players will be here to talk with us face-to-face — there is a virtual option to all of this, but I’m Zoomed out after a year of doing everything online.
Yet, COVID-19 will still be part of the questions that will be coming, if other media days around the nation are any indication.
Many conference commissioners have already hinted that if games won’t be played this season because of the virus and the protocols, they’re not going to be made up and likely will be declared forfeits. We have a vaccine now, and after a year of testing and masks and all of the worries, college programs should have a better idea on how to deal with all of this.
Schools, including Iowa, are planning for full stadiums this fall — you can even buy beer at Kinnick Stadium this year, because there’s money that has to be made up from last year’s empty arenas.
In many ways, we have come full circle. Still, there are concerns about the current uptick in COVID-19 cases around the nation. It’s a sign of how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve had to go.
This felt like any other trip to Indianapolis. The pro-gun-rights Burma-Shave-type signs are still there in central Illinois. There were plenty of construction zones, because there are always construction zones on I-74. No Beef House stop in Covington, Indiana, this time for me — I’ll hit it on the way home, though.
And it even was good, I guess, to roll in slow-moving traffic on 465.
I’m back where this all started. It felt like a long time ago.
John Bohnenkamp is an award-winning sports writer and a regular contributor to Pen City Current.

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