Big Ten announces conference-only schedules for fall sports

The decision was first reported by The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach.


Shivansh Ahuja

Kinnick Stadium is seen fom the north end zone at Iowa Football Media Day on Friday, August 9, 2019.

Robert Read, Sports Editor

The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday that if it is able to participate in fall sports based on medical advice, it will move to conference-only schedules in those sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news was first reported by The Athletic’s college football reporter Nicole Auerbach.

By limiting competition to only other Big Ten schools, the conference said in a statement that it 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.”

Iowa’s football, field hockey, volleyball, soccer, and men’s and women’s cross country, golf, and tennis teams all compete in the fall and are set to be impacted by this decision. The conference said details for these fall sports will be released at a later date.

“We fully support the actions being taken by the Big Ten Conference, knowing that the health, safety, and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff is the top priority,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said in a release. “The past few months have entailed numerous conversations between my conference colleagues, Commissioner [Kevin] Warren and our Big Ten presidents, as we have worked to navigate the challenges associated with this pandemic. The uncertainties have been difficult on our student-athletes and coaches and I appreciate their continued understanding of the situation. I am grateful for our fans who are also waiting for direction. While many uncertainties still exist, today’s decision will provide the greatest amount of flexibility as we move forward.”

The conference said this decision was made following meetings over the past several months between the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors, Directors of Athletics, Conference Office staff, and medical experts including the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.

The conference said it is also prepared to not compete this fall due to the pandemic.

“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 conference said in a statement.

The Hawkeye football team was set to compete against Northern Iowa, Iowa State, and Northern Illinois for its non-conference games in 2020. This will be the first time since 1976 that Iowa and Iowa State do not play each other in a football game.

The Big Ten is also set to lose other key non-conference football matchups, such as Ohio State at Oregon on Sept. 12, Wisconsin’s game against Notre Dame at Lambeau Field on Oct. 3, and Michigan’s trip to Washington on Sept. 5.

Iowa’s first scheduled conference game is currently set to be against Minnesota in Minneapolis Sept. 18.

Brett McMurphy of the Stadium Network reported that the Big Ten wants to play all nine scheduled league games but “may have to tweak or change the schedule some based on impact of COVID.”

In addition to the fall announcement, the conference said that summer athletic activities will continue to be voluntary in all sports currently permitted to engage in such activities. Big Ten student-athletes who choose not to participate in athletic activities at any time during the summer and/or 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team, the conference said.

Shortly after the the Big Ten’s announcement, the Stadium Network announced that the ACC is also expected to go to a conference-only schedule. Auerbach reported that the Pac-12 is also likely to follow suit.

The Big 12 and SEC have not announced plans to move to a conference-only schedule so far.

The Ivy League announced Wednesday that all fall sports had been postponed, and that no athletic events will take place in the conference until Jan. 1, 2021, at the earliest.

The Hawkeye football team started voluntary workouts June 8, and the men’s and women’s basketball teams did so June 15.

Iowa announced June 22 that it was pausing its football ticket sales to start focusing on reduced-capacity seating models amid the pandemic. According to The Des Moines Register’s Mark Emmert, 40,000 tickets had been sold at the time of that announcement.

At the end of the Iowa Athletics Department’s fiscal year on June 30, Barta announced $15 million in budget cuts for the next year. However, that projection was under the assumption that full football and basketball seasons would be played with fans.

In the athletic department’s most recent COVID-19 testing update Monday, Iowa reported it received four positive tests and one negative test. Testing began May 29 as part of the return to campus protocol, and includes student-athletes, coaches, and staff. A total of 21 positive tests and 392 negative tests have been received so far.

Ohio State announced Wednesday that it was suspending its voluntary workouts for football, men’s and women’s basketball, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball after COVID-19 testing results came back.