Big Ten Shuts Down Football, Other Fall Sports for 2020

By Dan Hope on August 11, 2020 at 2:47 pm
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Matthew O'Haren – USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten football won't be played this fall.

The Big Ten has officially voted not to play football and other sports this fall due to the health and safety concerns associated with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and will instead attempt to play its fall sports in the spring, the conference announced Tuesday.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

Per Tuesday's announcement, the Big Ten “will continue to evaluate a number of options regarding these sports, including the possibility of competition in the spring. Decisions regarding winter and spring sports will also continue to be evaluated.”

Whether a spring football season will actually be feasible – and whether the conference's top players will stick around to play – remains uncertain. Ultimately, though, the Big Ten came to the conclusion that proceeding forward with the season this fall carried too much risk.

“Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff,” said Northwestern president Morton Schapiro, chair of the Big Ten council of presidents and chancellors.

The Big Ten's announcement comes less than one week after it announced plans to proceed forward with a 10-game schedule for the 2020 season, and just three days after the Mid-American Conference announced Saturday that it would not play this fall, becoming the first Football Bowl Subdivision conference to make that move. The Big Ten is now the third FBS conference to shut down its fall sports, joining the MAC and Mountain West.

Despite pleas from four of the Big Ten's most prominent football coaches – Ohio State's Ryan Day, Penn State's James Franklin, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and Nebraska's Scott Frost – to at least delay the season, as well as Ohio State football players and parents and even a unified effort among players from all Power 5 conferences declaring their desire to play this fall, university leaders ultimately voted to pull the plug, becoming the first Power 5 conference to shut down its sports for the fall. The Pac-12 also moved to shut down fall sports for 2020 shortly following the Big Ten's decision.

“We know how significant the student-athlete experience can be in shaping the future of the talented young women and men who compete in the Big Ten Conference,” Warren said. “Although that knowledge made this a painstaking decision, it did not make it difficult. While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point. Everyone associated with the Big Ten Conference and its member institutions is committed to getting everyone back to competition as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he and president-elect Kristina Johnson both advocated to delay to the start of a fall season rather than postpone to the spring.

“President-elect Johnson and I were totally aligned in our efforts to delay the start of the season rather than postpone,” Smith said in a statement. “I am so grateful to her for all her efforts in support of our student-athletes and a traditional fall season.

“As an institution and as an athletic department, we have a responsibility first and foremost to care for the health, safety and wellness of our students and staff, and I believe we have done that successfully.”

Smith said Tuesday was “an incredibly sad day for our student-athletes, who have worked so hard and been so vigilant fighting against this pandemic to get this close to their season.”

“My heart aches for them and their families,” Smith said.

Johnson also expressed her heartache for Ohio State's athletes.

“As a former collegiate athlete whose career in sports was cut short by circumstances beyond my control, I deeply feel the pain, frustration and disappointment that all our players, coaches and staff – and all Buckeye fans – are feeling today,” said Ohio State president-elect Kristina M. Johnson. “I will continue to work closely with Athletics Director Gene Smith, Coach Ryan Day and all coaches and other leaders, to return our student-athletes to competition as soon as possible, while staying safe and healthy.

“We are focused on supporting our student-athletes in every way, ensuring their scholarships are still in place, and looking out for their health and safety and the health and safety of all our students as they continue to pursue their studies in these challenging times.”

Day has not yet commented publicly on the Big Ten's decision, but told ESPN on Monday that Ohio State would “need to look at every option” when asked if the Buckeyes would explore the possibility of playing outside the Big Ten if the fall season was canceled.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith indicated during an interview with BTN on Tuesday afternoon, however, that his focus starting Wednesday would be on working toward making it possible for the Buckeyes to play in the spring, and he told Lettermen Row's Austin Ward that Ohio State will not look to play outside of the Big Ten structure this fall.

That means 2020 will be the first calendar year in which Ohio State has not played a football game since 1889.

Other Ohio State fall sports impacted by the Big Ten's decision include men's and women's cross country, men's and women's soccer, field hockey and women's volleyball.

Per a news release from Ohio State on Tuesday, “specifics and details with regard to what workout and training regimens will consist of this fall for the student-athletes involved with these sports are being determined.”

Ohio State said its resources will remain in place for its athletes in fall sports, including:

  • All athletes on scholarship will remain on scholarship.
  • COVID-19 testing by the Department of Athletics and quarantine/isolation protocols will continue for those student-athletes.
  • Access to team facilities and locker rooms, and sports performance, medical/training and nutrition areas will be available under the current health and safety protocols that are in place.
  • Tutoring, scheduling and additional services provided through the Student-Athlete Support Services Office are ongoing.
  • Comprehensive mental health services will continue for all student-athletes through the athletic department’s staff at its Sport Psychology and Wellness Services department.
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