Big Ten going to conference-only fall slate amid COVID concerns

The Indiana football team runs onto the field before a 52-0 victory over Eastern Illinois on Sept. 7, 2019. IU will have no nonconference games this season.

BLOOMINGTON – The Big Ten announced on Thursday its plans to scale back to a conference-only schedule for all fall sports for 2020 due to concerns over a COVID-19 pandemic that remains rampant throughout the country.

In a statement, the conference also did not rule out the possibility of postponing fall sports altogether if medical experts determine it is unsafe to play this season.{p class=”tncms-inline-link”}Get breaking news delivered to you!

“If the Conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports,” the statement read. “Details for these sports will be released at a later date, while decisions on sports not listed above will continue to be evaluated. By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”

Later, in an interview on the Big Ten Network, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren was even more frank in his assessment of the fall sports season.

“This is not a fait accompli that we’re going to have sports in the fall,” Warren said. “We may not have sports in the fall. We may not have a college football season.”

Big Ten going to conference-only fall slate amid COVID concerns

Minnesota Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren talks to reporters after being named Big Ten Conference Commissioner during a news conference Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Big Ten’s decision comes on the heels of the Ivy League announcing earlier this week it plans to postpone all fall sports and one Big Ten member, Ohio State, pausing voluntary football workouts for one week due to an undisclosed number of COVID-19 positive tests within its athletic department.

Nationally, there are no signs of the virus spread slowing down, with a record 62,425 new cases reported Wednesday due to a surge of cases in the South and West in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.

“We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority,” the Big Ten statement read.

The biggest financial hit for Big Ten schools will come with the cancellation of non-conference football games. Indiana will lose a pair of home dates – Sept. 12 against Western Kentucky and Sept. 19 against Ball State, along with a Sept. 26 game at Connecticut. Purdue, meanwhile, will lose home games against Memphis (Sept. 12) and Air Force (Sept. 19) and a road game at Boston College (Sept. 26).

Big Ten going to conference-only fall slate amid COVID concerns

AP file/Michael ConroyA scene that won’t be seen this football season: Fans at Purdue’s Ross-Ade Stadium watch a nonconference game between the Boilermakers and Vanderbilt in West Lafayette on Sept. 7, 2019. The Big Ten Conference has announced that its fall teams will play only conference foes this season beause of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Throughout this process the health and safety of our students, coaches, staff and fans has been our number one priority, and I want to thank Commissioner Warren for his leadership as we navigate these unprecedented and challenging times,” Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson said. “I also appreciate the tremendous support and patience that our fans continue to display as we map out the best path to be able to move forward safely. Along with my fellow Big Ten athletic directors, we know that there remain many questions that still need to be answered, and we will work toward finding those answers in the coming weeks.”

Indiana is scheduled to open its season Sept. 4 at Wisconsin, while Purdue is scheduled to open Sept. 5 at Nebraska. It’s unclear at this point how those conference games will be impacted, but opening dates against subsequent non-conference opponents gives the conference the flexibility to buy time and move those games back depending on the state of the pandemic over the next six weeks.

“While there are many details yet to be determined regarding the structure and timing of the fall sport seasons, we want Boilermaker Nation to know that we are actively involved in the conversations and will share information as it becomes available,” Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski said. “Locally, we continue to evaluate and consider a variety of scenarios and strategies to bring our Boilermaker fans back to cheer on their favorite team in a safe, healthy and secure atmosphere.

Big Ten going to conference-only fall slate amid COVID concerns

This rivalry game is scheduled to be played this year: Indiana celebrates with the Old Oaken Bucket following its 44-41 double-overtime victory over Purdue on Nov. 30, 2019.AP file/Michael Conroy

“We recognize the inconvenience and disruption that has been caused and thank you for your patience, understanding and flexibility as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 environment.”

The decision also wipes out a number of non-conference marquee football matchups throughout the conference, including Michigan at Washington (Sept. 5), Ohio State at Oregon (Sept. 12), Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin (Oct. 3, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.), Penn State at Virginia Tech (Sept. 12), Iowa at Iowa State (Sept. 12) and Miami at Michigan State (Sept. 26).

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