The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday it will not play nonconference games in football and several other sports this fall, the most dramatic move yet by a power conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The league cited medical advice in making its decision and added ominously that the plan would be applied only “if the conference is able to participate in fall sports.”
“As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate,” the league said.
The SEC stands behind Commissioner Greg Sankey’s comments he made on the Paul Finebaum radio show earlier this week.
“We said from the onset of this pandemic that circumstances around the virus would guide our decision-making, and it is clear recent developments related to COVID-19 have not been trending in the right direction,” Sankey said. “There are important decisions to be made in the coming weeks and by late July there should be more clarity about the fall season.
“In the meantime, our athletics programs will continue to effectively manage the health and safety of our student-athletes as they continue voluntary activities on their respective campuses.”
On Thursday, Sankey wrote, “The Southeastern Conference will continue to meet regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks, guided by medical advisors, to make the important decisions necessary to determine the best path forward related to the SEC fall sports. We recognize the challenges ahead and know the well-being of our student athletes, coaches, staff and fans must remain at the forefront of those decisions.”
Besides football in the Big Ten, the sports affected include men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.
“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,” the Big Ten said.
The announcement came a day after the Ivy League called off fall sports and Stanford announced it was cutting 11 varsity sports as it struggles with the financial impact the virus outbreak is having on its budget.
There was no immediate reaction from the other big conferences, though the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have all indicated they intend to play fall sports, anchored by football, by far the biggest moneymaker.
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk was asked about the possible rationale for a conference-only schedule.
“Probably, it’s a comfort level of how protocols are being enacted, how testing is done and then keeping it within that family, if you will — your expanded social circle or social pod,” said Sterk, whose Tigers play in the SEC. “You might be able to control things more that way, or feel like you can, anyway versus the unknown of people coming from outside our 11 states.”
The marquee nonconference matchups in the Big Ten this season included Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. A handful of teams were scheduled to play two Big Ten opponents, including Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois.
The Big Ten said it would release detailed schedules later and continue to evaluate other sports. The league said its schools will honor scholarships for athletes who choose not to compete in the upcoming academic year because of concerns about the coronavirus.
Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson said he and his Big Ten colleagues “know that there remain many questions that still need to be answered, and we will work toward finding those answers in the coming weeks.”