The Big Ten Conference is going to give fall football a shot after all, under strict a strict safety plan that will prohibit fans from attending the games.
Less than five weeks after pushing football and other fall sports to spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the conference changed course Wednesday and said it plans to begin its season the weekend of Oct. 23-24.
All 14 teams will play eight regular-season games in eight weeks, plus have an opportunity to play a ninth game, possibly on Dec. 19, with a conference championship game in Indianapolis—if all goes well. That should give the Big Ten an opportunity to compete for the national championship.
The Indiana Sports Corp. said it is working with the conference to plan the conference championship game in Indianapolis, but said no date had been determined.
The Big Ten said its Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously Tuesday to restart sports. The emergence of daily rapid-response COVID-19 testing, not available when university presidents and chancellors decided to pull the plug on the season, helped trigger a re-vote.
The Pac-12 recently announced a partnership with a diagnostic lab that will give the conference’s schools the capacity to test athletes daily. The Big Ten believes it can do the same and that it is a game-changer.
Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said at Wednesday’s news conference that fans will not be allowed at games. He said schools are looking for ways to accommodate the families of the players at stadiums.
The move came amid sharp pressure from coaches, a lawsuit from players and pressure from parents and even President Donald Trump pushing for a Big Ten football season. The conference is home to a number of battleground states in the November election.
The Big Ten said each school will designate a chief infection officer who will oversee the collection and reporting of data for the conference. Team test-positivity rates and population-positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition.
The Big Ten said it would require student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing. Anyone testing positive for COVID-19 would be required to take the more stringent polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test to confirm the result.
Any athlete testing positive for COVID-19 wouldn’t be able to return to game competition for 21 days from the diagnosis.
Additionally, all COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo extensive cardiac testing. Athletes will require clearance from a cardiologist. The 14 Big Ten institutions will use the data to establish a cardiac registry to examine the effects of COVID-19 on student-athletes.