Big Ten to Play Conference-Only Schedules in All Fall Sports, Including Football, for 2020

By Dan Hope on July 9, 2020 at 3:23 pm
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

Ohio State sports teams won't be playing any non-conference games this fall.

The Big Ten announced Thursday that all of its fall sports, including football, will play conference games only this season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as first reported by The Athletic's Nicole Auerbach.

“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's statement reads. “To that end, the Big Ten Conference announced today that 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.

“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.”

The Big Ten's announcement notes that the conference is “also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate,” which Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith reiterated while speaking with the media on Thursday.

“I can't reiterate enough the fact that we might not play,” Smith said during an interview on BTN. “We just might not. And I think that people need to understand that.”

As a result of conference-only scheduling, Ohio State's first three scheduled games of the 2020 football season against Bowling Green, Oregon and Buffalo will no longer be played. Ohio State was set to pay $1.2 million to Bowling Green for its Sept. 5 season opener and $1.8 million to Buffalo for a Sept. 19 game at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes' trip to Autzen Stadium was set to be the first leg of a home-and-home series, with Oregon set to play at Ohio State in 2021.

Smith said on a conference call Thursday afternoon that he has had conversations with the athletic directors from all three of those schools, and that they will have discussions about rescheduling those games in the future.

Smith and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren both said Thursday that further conversations about what the Big Ten's schedule this fall will look like will take place next week, but Smith said he is “hopeful” that the conference will implement a 10-game schedule for the regular season.

Ohio State is currently scheduled to open conference play at Ohio Stadium against Rutgers on Sept. 26 and conclude the season against Michigan on Nov. 28, but Smith said the Big Ten could potentially play conference games in early September now that those dates are available.

It's yet to be determined how the Big Ten's schedule change will affect postseason competitions, including the College Football Playoff. As of Thursday, no other FBS conference had announced changes to its football schedule for the 2020 season, but it is expected that others – including the Pac-12 – will soon follow suit. Smith said Thursday that he is currently focused on Ohio State's sports teams hopefully being able to participate in regular-season games, not worrying about postseason implications.

The NCAA said in a brief statement on Thursday that it “supports its members as they make important decisions based on their specific circumstances and in the best interest of college athletes’ health and well-being,” suggesting it will be left up to each conference to make its own decisions about how to proceed forward with fall sports. 

Per Thursday's announcement by the Big Ten, ”Big Ten student-athletes who choose not to participate in intercollegiate athletics at any time during the summer and/or the 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.”

The Big Ten also announced “that summer athletic activities will continue to be voluntary in all sports currently permitted to engage in such activities.” The NCAA's Division I Council had previously approved a plan for college football teams to be allowed to begin required workouts next week, but that was contingent on the season starting on Sept. 5. Ohio State's voluntary workouts were paused for the time being on Wednesday following an unspecified number of positive COVID-19 tests.

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