Game on for Big Ten football.
After more than a month of political wrangling, coach chirping, parent protests, player lawsuits, fan frustration and public outcry, the conference announced it plans to hold a season this fall after all.
All 14 teams will play and are expected to start games the weekend of Oct. 24, two Big Ten sources with direct knowledge of the decision told the Free Press, just before the league made it official with a news release. The league said the decision to resume play was unanimous among the league’s 14 presidents and chancellors.
[ As Big Ten football returns, here are the questions: Why now? Will they be ready in time? ]
“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students. The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference,” Northwestern president Morton Schapiro, who chairs the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and the return task force steering committee. “We appreciate the conference’s dedication to developing the necessary safety procedures for our students and the communities that embrace them.”
The Big Ten will play an eight-game season, and ta ninth game that pits equal seeds in each division against each other the week of the Big Ten championship, scheduled for Dec. 19. That is the day before the College Football Playoff pairings are expected to be announced.
Daily testing for football players, coaches and others begins Sept. 30. The conference said a number of medical protocols will apply to all other Big Ten sports before they can resume competition. The league said updates regarding other fall sports and winter sports that begin in the fall (including men’s and women’s basketball and men’s ice hockey) “will be announced shortly.”
The 14 presidents and chancellors indefinitely delayed all fall sports Aug. 11 due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic and potential health issues for athletes, with the Pac-12 Conference following suit a day later. However, the other three Power Five conferences – the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference – all proceeded on schedule with football. The seasons have started for ACC and Big 12 teams, while the SEC is slated to kick off Sept. 26.
Conference leaders voted 11-3 in August to postpone the season until spring, with Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa the initial outliers. However, the backlash against commissioner Kevin Warren and Big Ten presidents and chancellors was immediate and strong. It included tweets about the cancellation and a call from President Donald Trump to Warren, as well as pressure in the courts, for the league to explain its initial decision.
One of the biggest changes that league leaders say helped in the decision to resume play is the availability of rapid testing. The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors in its release announced “daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition.”
“Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes,” Warren said in the release. “Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love”
The COVID-19 testing will be for players, coaches, trainers and others who are on the field for practices and games.Test results must be completed and recorded prior to each practice or game. Players who test positive for the coronavirus through point-of-contact (POC) daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result of the POC test, per the league.
“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” Dr. Jim Borchers, Ohio State’s head team physician and co-chair of the return task force medical subcommittee, said in a release.