UPDATE: Big Ten officially pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

Ohio State beat Wisconsin, 34-21 in the Big Ten Football Championship on Saturday, Dec. 7 at Lucas Oil Stadium. (IBJ photo/Mickey Shuey)

The Big Ten Conference won’t be playing football and other sports this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, officials announced Tuesday, ending two days of speculation.

The official announcement comes two days after various media reports emerged that said the conference had decided to call off  the fall sports season. Indiana University and Purdue University are Big Ten members.

The decision comes six day after the conference, which includes historic powerhouse programs such as Ohio State University, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State, released a revised conference-only football schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season amid the pandemic.

The fall sports in the decision are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.

The conference said it would continue to evaluate a number of options regarding the sports, including the possibility of competition in the spring. Decisions regarding winter and spring sports will also continue to be evaluated.

The conference said Tuesday that it relied on the medical advice and counsel of the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.

“Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff,” said Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro, chairman of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors, in a written statement.

Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward the decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

The Big Ten became the first Power Five Conference member to yield to the pandemic but might not be the last. Other Power Five members include the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference and Southeastern Conference.

On Saturday, the Mid-American Conference became the first among 10 leagues that play at the highest tier of Division I college football to cancel fall sports. Ball State University plays in the MAC. The Mountain West Conference followed suit on Monday.

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

With the Big Ten’s decision, 41 of the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision schools have either said they will not play this fall or are in conferences that have made that decision.

In addition to the conference cancellations, the University of Massachusetts, an FBS independent in football, announced on Tuesday that it was canceling its season. Last week, the University of Connecticut became the first FBS program to shut down its 2020 season, which would have been its first as an independent. Old Dominion, a member of Conference USA in most sports including football, canceled all fall sports Monday.

Players, coaches, lawmakers and President Donald Trump expressed support for playing this fall, while others have doubted that they can the practice and play safely amid a pandemic. Because college football players are amateurs, they do not have a players’ union that makes them a formal part of the decision-making process. As uncertainty about the season grew in recent days, many players and coaches publicly pushed for playing this fall.

“Our university is committed to playing no matter what, no matter what that looks like and how that looks,” University of Nebraska Coach Scott Frost told reporters Monday afternoon. “We want to play no matter who it is or where it is. So we’ll see how all those chips fall. We certainly hope it’s in the Big Ten. If it isn’t, I think we’re prepared to look for other options.”

The Big Ten’s decision could ripple across college football as other conferences engage in similar conversations about whether a season can be safely held. The Big Ten, which consists of 14 schools spanning 11 states, was the first of the Power Five conferences to announce an adjustment to its 2020 football season by shifting to a conference-only schedule. The Pac-12 and SEC followed suit with the same plan, while the Big 12 and ACC decided to keep one nonconference game on each school’s schedule.

The broadcast rights for football generate millions of dollars for the Big Ten’s athletic departments, and schools across the country have projected major deficits in the wake of the pandemic. The University of Wisconsin, for instance, recently announced a fundraising campaign that said the athletic department expected to face a revenue shortfall of more than $100 million if the season was canceled and a deficit of $60 million to $70 million if the team played with limited fans.

Frost said Nebraska’s athletic department would suffer a $80 million to $120 million hit without a football season. In many athletic departments, the revenue from football covers the operating costs of all the nonrevenue programs the school offers.

As the Big Ten moved toward football season, which was set to begin the weekend of Sept. 5, the conference developed guidelines to limit the risk of playing. During the season, the Big Ten planned to test athletes and personnel twice a week. Anyone who had been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus had to quarantine for 14 days—an effective measure in controlling the spread of the virus but one that sounded alarms about the feasibility of a season. Through contact tracing protocols, even a small number of positive cases on a team could require a large chunk of players to sit out for two weeks.

While Warren has expressed confidence in the conference’s health and safety protocols, he hasn’t shied away from acknowledging the uncertainty around holding a football season this fall.

“We may not have sports in the fall,” Warren said in July after the Big Ten announced its plan for conference-only schedules. “We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten.”

When the conference announced each team’s week-by-week schedule a month later, Warren repeated the sentiment: “There’s no guarantee that we will have fall sports or football season.”

By Tuesday, six days after those schedules were released, the Big Ten canceled the fall season, a decision voted on by the conference’s university presidents.

Football players returned to their campuses in June for voluntary workouts held in small groups. Michigan State and Rutgers each had to quarantine their entire team after a spike in cases inside their programs. Big Ten teams resumed practice last week, but the conference announced Saturday morning that until further notice, football players could only practice with helmets and no pads. With four weeks until the start of the season, the conference’s statement said, “We understand there are many questions regarding how this impacts schedules, as well as the feasibility of proceeding forward with the season at all.”

Unlike in professional sports, college football programs cannot keep their players inside an insular environment that limits contact with the public. Instead, these athletes would have, in some cases, attended in-person classes with their peers before congregating with their teammates for meetings and practices.

Football players from the Pac-12, Big Ten and Mountain West released statements asking their conferences for improved health protocols. More than 30 Power Five football players, including at least 13 from the Big Ten, have already chosen to opt out of the 2020 season. The long-term effects of the virus are still unknown, and health experts are worried about covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, affects the heart.

Players from the Power Five schools, including Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, shared a unified message on social media Sunday night with the hashtag #WeWantToPlay. Trump retweeted Lawrence’s post and added: “The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay.”

Multiple Big Ten coaches publicly expressed their desire to play this fall. Ohio State football coach Ryan Day tweeted Monday afternoon, “Swinging as hard as we possibly can right now for these players!! This isn’t over!” The official Twitter accounts for Ohio State football and Michigan football retweeted multiple posts from players and coaches who were in favor of a fall season.

But university presidents, who leaned on medical professionals for advice, ultimately made this decision. And for those Big Ten leaders, the risks of this virus that the country has yet to contain was enough to topple the season.

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21 thoughts on “UPDATE: Big Ten officially pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

  1. Finally, an organization that makes policy based on sound medical advice! Particularly in view of the FACT that young people can not only get Covid and die, but also pass it on to friends and family. I’m a big college football fan and will miss it, but this is the right decision. And perhaps a good occasion to re-evaluate the ridiculous salaries being paid to head coaches in all these sports. I always thought college existed to get an advanced education, not be an entertainment industry.

    1. With respect you aren’t using the facts, but that doesn’t stop anyone these days. College athletes, especially at D1 level, are the healthiest humans on the planet. They aren’t dying from covid- you can’t point to one example in the US of this because it doesn’t exist.

      It’s a shame that everyone is so focused on shutting down these sports instead of looking for creative ways to enable them. I guarantee every athlete would rather play in an empty stadium with a TV crew vs not play at all- for example.

      I do agree that colleges will lose over time from this and support for the programs will wane as athletes with professional aspirations will just look to minor leagues to advance careers instead of trying to figure out which college will support sports. Same will happen at high school level…kids will opt out of school sports full time for private leagues, travel, etc.

    2. Funny – you think this is about Covid – Once President Trump came out and supported playing the season, the College Presidents could not meet fast enough to vote down the season.

  2. Multiple college players who have tested positive have also shown serious heart damage-potentially long term and life changing.

    This is much more than the flu…

    Very sad for college towns/busnises AND tailgating😞!

  3. Just for the record Luke P, I am a loyal graduate of IU undergrad and IU school of medicine and get medical bulletins daily. So I do know and understand the facts!

    1. Jeff I’m just asking for some data to support your claims because i don’t can’t find them.

      The stats I’m reading supplied by IN shows <0.1% deaths in this age group (on 2,800 total deaths… 90%+ over 60).

      This all seems concentrated on protecting the youth from risk. Yet last year roughly 70 kids were killed in car crashes in IN…nearly 35-70x more risky than covid death. Suicide is next. Has there been any analysis to show increases of depression in this age group, which could lead to more teenage suicides. This wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume given these kids have spent most of their childhood getting to this level only to be taken away. I’m just pointing out there in another side to this argument that seems to be lost on people who cheer this decision.

  4. So, let me see if I understand this. It is too dangerous for the BIG 10 to have football, soccer, volleyball, cross-country and field hockey…too dangerous for The Kelley School of Business to have I-Core and most other classes in-person…but it is OK to have students in their dorms, fraternities and sororities, with no classes to attend? And, in the case of IU, raise the cost of tuition…

    1. Thank You. The hypocrisy that exists today on what we decide is ok or not ok is mind blowing. This pandemic is a terrible thing for everyone, but we live in a society (fortunately) that allows people to make their own decisions. We all know that there are risks associated with COVID and if we don’t feel comfortable with those risks we stay home or certainly try to minimize our exposure. Nobody forces anyone to play football, go to public places, or do much of anything if they don’t want to. The spineless decisions that are being made to cancel everything is just insane. Masks and social distancing work. Let’s generate plans that don’t disrupt the lives of so many needlessly

  5. No surprise here. For the most part, college administrators are a bunch of left-wing cowards and are scared of their own shadows. And they waited until August to make this decision???

  6. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren resides in Chicago. Any surprise here?! He actually just said in his B1G Network interview that Covid deaths have spiked in B1G states. What a joke. Couldn’t be farther from the truth. Releasing a schedule and then cancelling 6 days later is a joke. Someone got to him and it had nothing to do with the virus.

  7. Friendly reminder: As of today, there are 270 Covid deaths nationally under the age of 25 in the United States. Source: Search CDC by Covid Death by Age.

    There are just under 93 million Americans under the age of 25 years old. Source: Statista.com

    Can someone please try to compute the death rate for me? Can’t imagine the college drop-outs that revert to drugs and alcoholism when they don’t have football this season. Death rate Among student athletes will be infinitely higher from the season being cancelled. Poor seniors.

  8. They have essentially pulled the plug on themselves. They are worthless, spineless and without any leadership skills whatsoever. Why do you have an ALTHETIC CONFERENCE if you vote not to do anything? You serve NO PURPOSE. This will cost MILLIONS OF DOLLARS; does anyone get that? This could for all practical purposes end collegiate sports for the foreseeable future!
    At some point, I hope a lot of University Presidents and others responsible for this TRAIN WRECK gets FIRED!

  9. Sorry guys but instead of sitting on the couch and watching college football, you’re going to have to go outside and do yardwork. Or read a book. Or, the horror, talk to your spouse.

    1. This is sad to read and I really hope he’s ok. Thanks for sharing the story.

      Below is a link to a study showing deaths of college athletes over a 10 year period. Of the 182 listed during that time, 52 or roughly 5 per year were due to suicide and 6/yr were due to heart conditions where the athlete didn’t realize they had a pre-existing heart condition. I really hope the suicide numbers don’t increase this year but that is my main concern.

      In the past our society has looked past these tragic deaths, so why now should we believe the reason these universities are canceling sports is in the name of athlete safety?


  10. I see the players want a seat at the table. Noble request but since the table won’t exist they better come up with another plan. We have a lot of people running around today with a false sense of importance and power-thinking they get to dictate their every move. (Like trashing downtown urban areas) All the bellyaching by the players is gonna backfire when there aren’t any teams, scholarships etc.

  11. Why are they saying anything? The Big Ten and now the PAC 10 have abrogated their sports for fall and in essence have broken their agreement with the schools and fans and participants. They are not athletic conferences any longer. They have said there will be no intercollegiate athletics so what is their use? They rule over nothing. The people or forces that are running things do not intend for the general population to see Pro Sports or major college competition again. Their standard is “no more instances of COVID 19.” This is not going to happen. A zero cases condition, is not going to occur. Until sanity returns, get out your old tapes, tune in the ESPN Classics channel or the computer games and dream about the “good old days” because they are gone; or at least till sanity returns.

  12. Breaking News: Big Ten has permanently cancelled all sports due to the annual flu for which a billion people a year get globally and there is a “vaccine”. Fortunately “NO” in the entire globe was has died of the flu this year, curious!
    I’ll be glad when November 3rd gets here so we can move on to the next impeachment trial. I almost miss old lying Nades, at least that didn’t destroy the entire global economy. Yes is too was propaganda but at least the business travel was active. With the level of vacancies in Metropolitan downtown area’s the buildings will be kindling for the domestic terrorist to burn. They can’t loot them they already stole all of the stuff that was there.
    Remember in Indiana (SoI-Dept. of Health web site) 66% of the purported deaths C-19 occurred in long term care facilities, lesson learned stay away from LTC facilities.
    Thank you Big Ten for being enlightened and making a decision for thousand of athletes, millions of fans because we are to ignorant and incapable of making our own decisions.

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