Big Ten calls an audible, will play football season this fall

The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously to resume the conference’s football season starting Oct. 23-24.


Katina Zentz

Iowa players walk onto the field for the first game of their season against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors has voted unanimously to resume the conference’s football season starting Oct. 23-24.

The conference previously announced on Aug. 11 that all fall sports in the conference, including football, were postponed because of ongoing concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, and on Aug. 19, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said the decision would not be revisited. On Wednesday, the conference said it has adopted “significant medical protocols including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening, and an enhanced data-driven approach” and will return to the football field this fall.

“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,” Dr. Jim Borchers, Head Team Physician at Ohio State University and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee, said in a release.

“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.”

According to multiple reports, teams will play eight regular season games in eight weeks starting the weekend of Oct. 23-24. The season will reportedly culminate in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 19 ahead of the release of the final College Football Playoff rankings.

Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said on the Big Ten Network following the announcement that during the week of the Big Ten Championship game, every team from the East and the West divisions will pair up and also play an additional game. Matchups will be determined by division standings.

The conference has not yet made an official schedule announcement. Alvarez said a schedule is expected to be finalized later this week.

The Big Ten will require athletes, coaches, trainers, and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing. Test results must be completed and recorded prior to each practice or game. Athletes who test positive for the coronavirus through point of contact (POC) daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result of the POC test.

Each Big Ten institution will designate a Chief Infection Officer who will oversee the collection and reporting of data for the Big Ten Conference. Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition. The figures will be based on a seven-day rolling average.

Teams must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved if the team’s positivity rate (number of positive tests divided by total number of tests administered) is greater than five percent or if the population’s positivity rate (number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk) is greater than 7.5 percent.

Population, in this instance, is defined by the Big Ten as a team’s rostered players plus the group of coaches and staff members subject to daily antigen testing.

RELATED: Iowa athletics department reports COVID-19 testing update

In its most recent COVID-19 testing update, the Iowa athletics department reported that 24 positive tests and 653 negative tests were received between Sept. 7-13. Iowa does not provide a testing breakdown by sport. The department paused all workouts on Aug. 31 after it conducted 815 COVID-19 tests for the week of Aug. 24-30 and received 93 positive tests and 722 negative tests. Workouts resumed Sept. 8.

Daily testing will begin by Sept. 30.

The earliest an athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.

In addition to the medical protocols approved, the 14 Big Ten institutions will establish a cardiac registry in an effort to examine the effects on COVID-19 positive athletes.

“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students.  The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference,” Morton Schapiro, Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University President, and Chair of the Return to Competition Task Force Steering Committee, said in a release. “We appreciate the conference’s dedication to developing the necessary safety procedures for our students and the communities that embrace them.”

“Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes. Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love,” Warren said in a release. “We are incredibly grateful for the collaborative work that our Return to Competition Task Force have accomplished to ensure the health, safety and wellness of student-athletes, coaches and administrators.”

The Big Ten presidents and chancellors originally voted 11-3 in favor of postponing all fall sports because of concerns with COVID-19. Iowa, Ohio State, and Nebraska were the only schools that voted to play.

After the Big Ten’s announcement, the PAC-12 is the only Power Five conference that is not scheduled to play football this fall.

The conference’s return to competition in October is only for football and an update will be provided on other sports “shortly.”

“Eventually all Big Ten sports will require testing protocols before they can resume competition,” the conference said in a release. “Updates regarding fall sports other than football, as well as winter sports that begin in the fall including men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and wrestling, will be announced shortly.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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