Big Ten reverses decision; football season to start Oct. 23

The Big Ten plans to begin the 2020 season on Oct. 23.

The conference overturned an initial decision, announced Aug. 11, to delay football season until spring 2021, which followed the lead of the Ivy League and several other conferences that cited concerns related to health and safety tied to the coronavirus pandemic. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in the August announcement that the decision “would not be revisited.”

But with daily antigen testing available to all “student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games,” the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors decided football can be played and made the announcement on Wednesday.

Full Big Ten schedule expected

Big 12
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A full conference game schedule is expected to be established by the end of next week. The Big Ten had planned, before postponing the season, to play only conference games. Only a limited number of family members of players and staff will be allowed into stadiums, if permitted by local ordinances, but fans will otherwise not be able to attend games.

“We are not going to permit fans in general,” Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said. “As a conference we’ve made a decision: no public sale of tickets.”

Wisconsin athletic director said Big Ten teams would play nine games. The decision was met with joy from coaches and players.

“Let’s play some football!,” Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez tweeted.

“Great news today,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who earlier expressed disappointment over the decision. “Over the past month, I could sense the anticipation from our players and coaches, and I’m thrilled on their behalf that they will have a chance to play a 2020 season. Stay positive. Test negative. Let’s play football.”

His counterpart at Penn State, James Franklin, echoed Harbaugh’s thoughts.

“These last several months have been riddled with uncertainty for our student-athletes, but they have handled it with class and dignity,” Franklin said. “Our guys have remained relentless in following our COVID-19 protocols and in their preparations to be ready to play football.”

Stringent COVID-19 guidelines remain

And teams cannot back off their efforts. Among the underlined Big Ten guidelines: any positive COVID-19 test brings a mandatory 21-day quarantine, per the league.

Kevin Warren
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“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,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, Ohio State head team physician and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee.

“The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities.”

Daily testing is scheduled to begin Sept. 30.

The Big Ten is requiring state infection rates to be below 7.5 percent for seven days in order for games to played in that state. As of numbers reported by Johns Hopkins University Tuesday, Minnesota (8.1 percent), Nebraska (9.4), Iowa (13.5) and Wisconsin (14.6) could not host games for seven days. Maryland (6.4) and Pennsylvania (6.8) are near the threshold.

Pac-12 lagging behind

The Pac-12 followed the Big Ten’s decision in August to postpone fall sports and has signed a contract with a medical lab for a leaguewide rapid-testing program that could hasten a return to play. But half of the Pac-12 teams — Southern Cal, UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Oregon and Oregon State — haven’t been cleared by their state officials to practice as wildfires rage throughout California and Oregon.

“We are hopeful that our new daily testing capability can help satisfy public health official approvals in California and Oregon to begin contact practice and competition,” Scott said. “We are equally closely monitoring the devastating fires and air quality in our region at this time. We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public health authority approvals.”

Justin Fields
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In the Big Ten, the return to play Oct. 23-24 was unanimously approved.

Safeguards are being adopted, the conference said Wednesday, to identify and treat myocarditis — swelling of the heart connected in some studies to COVID-19. The concern was elevated by Penn State’s medical staff last month. The league did not specifically address concerns about long-term lung damage associated with the coronavirus in some cases.

“All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI,” the Big Ten said in a statement Wednesday. “Following cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.”

The council laid out additional stipulations and guidelines including:

  • Results must be completed and recorded prior to each practice or game
  • Student-athletes who test positive for the coronavirus through point of contact daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result of the POC test
  • Each institution must identify a chief infection officer to oversee collection and reporting of data to the conference

–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)