Big Ten moves to conference-only schedule for fall sports

The Big Ten has decided to implement a conference-only schedule for fall sports in 2020, significantly altering the landscape of this coming season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Big Ten announced the plan in a statement Thursday afternoon, saying that a conference-only format should allow for greater cooperation and quicker decision-making based on the pandemic. The sports involved are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.

“Details for these sports will be released at a later date, while decisions on sports not listed above will continue to be evaluated,” the Big Ten’s statement said. “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.”

While this reduces the number of schools the Big Ten will have to liaise with, creating a more regional landscape for its member institutions, this is also an indication from the Big Ten that the conference at least plans to press forward with having a fall sports season, most notably in the revenue-generating sport of football.

Earlier this week, the Ivy League announced it would not have fall sports this school year. The Big Ten is the first Power 5 conference to announce a modified league-only schedule for the fall, and the question is whether others like the SEC or Pac-12 will follow suit.

The Big Ten’s statement did leave open the possibility, though, that fall sports could inevitably be canceled.

“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 Big Ten’s statement said.

Indiana was set to open its 2020 football schedule at Wisconsin on Sept. 4, but its next three games were all non-conference opponents, including home dates with Western Kentucky and Ball State and a road matchup with UConn.

IU’s other scheduled conference games this season are currently Maryland (Oct. 10), Rutgers (Oct. 17), Michigan State (Oct. 24), Penn State (Oct. 31), Ohio State (Nov. 7), Illinois (Nov. 14), Michigan (Nov. 21), and Purdue (Nov. 28).

For the conference, in general, this move eliminates several marquee football matchups, including Ohio State-Oregon and Penn State-Virginia Tech on Sept. 12 and Notre Dame-Wisconsin on Oct. 3.

“Throughout this process, the health and safety of our students, coaches, staff and fans has been our number one priority, and I want to thank Commissioner (Kevin) Warren for his leadership as we navigate these unprecedented and challenging times,” IU athletic director Scott Dolson said in a statement. “I also appreciate the tremendous support and patience that our fans continue to display as we map out the best path to be able to move forward safely. Along with my fellow Big Ten athletic directors, we know that there remain many questions that still need to be answered, and we will work toward finding those answers in the coming weeks.”

How these changes will be sorted out remains to be seen, including scheduling and financial outcomes for non-conference opponents that are being dropped by Big Ten schools. Ball State football was slated to receive $700,000 for traveling to IU this fall, but there is a “force majeure” clause stipulating the game contract is void if “an unforeseen catastrophe” makes it impossible to play. 

There is similar language in the contract with Western Kentucky. If one team forfeits, the other is owed a $750,000 fee, but it does not apply if there’s an “impossibility of performance.” IU initially owed WKU a one-time payment of $1 million by Nov. 7, 2019 for the three-game series, but that changed to two payments of $550,000 when the series was pushed back a year.

WKU’s first payment was set to arrive within 30 days after its 2020 road date at IU. The terms of the updated contract were first reported by WDRB’s Aaron Matas.

There is also a lingering question about whether Big Ten football teams will pick up more games than nine within conference play and how bye weeks will be utilized. Just subtracting non-conference play would leave a month-long gap between IU’s Wisconsin and Maryland contests.

There are also questions unanswered about college football’s postseason, including whether a six-win threshold will still be the bar for bowl eligibility, if there are bowls.

There are ramifications for non-revenue sports, as well. For instance, IU men’s soccer was slated to play in-state opponents Butler and Notre Dame, but those matches will have to be called off. Also, there are only nine men’s soccer teams in the Big Ten, and IU, for example, played 22 matches in 2019. 

One issue the Big Ten settled in its statement Thursday was in regards to student-athletes’ scholarships. Workouts that are currently underway remain voluntary, the conference said, and if an athlete chooses not to compete in their sport out of worries about the pandemic, they will not lose their scholarship.

IU’s outgoing athletic director, Fred Glass, made that promise to Hoosier athletes over a week ago. Voluntary workouts for IU sports began in mid-June, as football and men’s and women’s basketball returned to campus.

In IU’s first round of COVID-19 testing, zero out of 187 tests came back positive for the disease.

22 comments

  1. Just my guess but football, no; basketball in February, if at all. The other fall sports, yes.

  2. Baseball seems the most viable…Just remove allowing base stealing where tags can be applied. Outfielders and infielders getting within six feet of each other gives the opposing team an extra at bat/out.

    Eliminate umpires behind the catcher. Place catchers 15 feet back and just use them as ball retrievers. Balls and strikes called via camera imagery.

    Golf is a go. Ping pong is a go. Darts is a go. Fencing is a go ….Already have masks. Sword plus length of arm usually exceeds six feet. Swimming is a go. Every other lane. Use more chlorine. Maybe even inject chlorine. Diving is a go.
    Cycling is a go. Little 500 with no fans is a go.

  3. On the bright side, “student athletes” may actually become students again. Schedules far less demanding. More time in shortened schedules and postponed schedules to study. Maybe even dive into scripture a bit deeper?
    If sports becomes a “ghost” of itself, who needs “ghost classes?”

    Should we consider flag football? Less contact …Wear shields. Far fewer concussions. Concussions will kill (or kill chances of a healthy brain and quality of life) far more football players than Covid-19 ever will.

    1. There won’t really be much impact on the student athlete side. We’ll play two fewer home games, so there will be no practical impact on travel. Depending on the scheduling and possible open dates, there may be some practice changes, but that’s really it.

  4. Is @ UConn a conference game? I believe that was a travel date.

    And how do we go to a bowl game without 3 non-conference patsies on our schedule? Will we just need to win 2 conference games in the brutal East to be bowl eligible. Now we’ll get the glaring truth of “football rising.”
    It might be better for our reputation to just scrap the season. We may need throw-up bags more than masks. How do we gain any psychological momentum without any ‘Little Sisters of the Poor’ to beat up on?
    And as it stands now, there’s five weeks between the opener @ Wisconsin (Sept 4) and next conference game at home against Maryland (Oct 10). No traveling to UConn as well. I’m tightening up just thinking about it. Seems like a good “stretch” to hit the books (along with the stretch that will come with being out of contention for a bowl….assuming any bowl games happen).
    Can we win two conference games and get to an empty stadium for an inconsequential bowl? I’m sitting on the edge of my seat.

    Shut the whole thing down. This is just silly. The country is in a Covid-19 bonfire …..Time for a fair catch. Take the knee in the end zone. Go to commercial break until fall 2021. We had our chance to run an aggressive offensive attack against this virus. The whole thing was trivialized. Our VP is just now finally relinquishing the stubborn ignorance and wearing a mask. Too late. You sold the public the goods of such flippancy. Now we must all endure the cost.

    But all is not lost…Hit the books! Books don’t spread the virus.

    1. The road game at UConn will now be a conference road game. In other words, there won’t be any real change in travel, since the number of road games will remain at five. Brevity works, but so does common sense.

      1. I don’t think any firm decisions have been made on the full slate of games to be played. And commonsense also tells me if we’re playing all conference games, our odds of a bowl are probably 1 in 100. It will be a shortened season…if it’s even a season at all.
        Thus, my main point is solid gold once again, Mr. Squirmy Wormy full of snide. Shortened season (notice how I also said the possibility of a “postponed season” plus high potential of no season equals more chance to enhance the “student” side of the student athlete equation.

        You centered on the travel aspect which is probably the least of the factors. You also assumed I was only talking of football with regard to shortened seasons or postponed seasons. “If sports becomes a ghost of itself…..” was part of my initial claim. Seasons could also be stopped early midstream…..much like the brakes were put on the conference basketball tournaments.

        You should really pay closer attention. Must be all those worm holes in the noggin.

        1. The Big Ten already explicitly said it would be a shortened season. That’s hardly news if you’ve been paying attention. And logic tells you there will be a strong effort to divide the already announced 10 game schedule into a five home / five away slate. These are, in fact, the discussions that are occurring. And yes, since the subject was football, it was assumed you were discussing that, though brevity and focus and knowledge of the topics at hand . . . well, we know the rest. Remember, it takes few words to be truthful and accurate. Try it.

  5. And what’s the penalty for a student athlete who decides to go out to an off-campus party? Will our college athletes be kept in bubble dorms? Bars on windows? Tracking devices/apps always on? 24/7 cameras and monitors on dorm hall main entry doors?
    Doesn’t sound much like college to me….No parties? No dates? No sneaking home for a weekend? Are they student athletes or prisoners of our profit motive?

    1. You know H4H,

      You just might be on to something with your observation, “Doesn’t sound much like college to me.” A month or two ago, if I remember correctly, there was a Harvard professor going nuts over the online and home schooling due to the virus. Didn’t like the idea of education be conducted outside the walls of our established institutions.

      Maybe it is time we ended college as we know it, might be for the better. Of course B’town, and quite a few other places across the country could be in for a rude awakening without their revenue stream due to the student population. Yes, I’m beginning to like this idea better and better.

      1. Where to begin…Where to begin.

        First, I will quote from the piece above for Squirmy Wormy.

        There is also a lingering question about whether Big Ten football teams will pick up more games than nine within conference play and how bye weeks will be utilized. Just subtracting non-conference play would leave a month-long gap between IU’s Wisconsin and Maryland contests.

        There are also questions unanswered about college football’s postseason, including whether a six-win threshold will still be the bar for bowl eligibility, if there are bowls.

        Logic tells you nothing …You’re just dropping the most recent news as its been in flux. I listen to sports radio, as well. Nothing was set in stone in the above piece (as shown in the blockquote). Don’t see you using the snide and telling Scoop reporters to stop with redundancy or to have commonsense.

        Next blockquote:

        There are ramifications for non-revenue sports, as well. For instance, IU men’s soccer was slated to play in-state opponents Butler and Notre Dame, but those matches will have to be called off. Also, there are only nine men’s soccer teams in the Big Ten, and IU, for example, played 22 matches in 2019.

        Contrary to your statement, the “subject” was not just football. Maybe you should read the entire piece instead of getting your panties in a knot at everything I say? Pay attention, Squirmy Wormy.
        Additionally, a opening comment on the thread contained references to basketball and other fall sports (along with a belief that basketball could be delayed until February).
        Let’s try this again…..More postponements. More uncertainty. A virus which can be deadly (along with no vaccine and a potential to mutate), which remains extremely unpredictable all adds up to many student athletes being more “students” than “athletes” this fall/winter/spring.

        If you believe any proposal is set in stone amid the current volatile state of affairs, I dare say you are the one severely lacking in commonsense.
        My guess is that a large population of college athletes are going to have substantially more time to pursue the student side of the the student-athlete equation. There’s no guarantee that they’ll use the time in such a fashion, but the opportunity will be there.
        Where there is loss, there is opportunity, Squirmy. That’s my thesis on this one. It’s solid gold next to your weakness to stand on condescension and snide (it doesn’t take a hell of a lot of effort to extend the “brevity” of a middle finger).

        Be patient, sinkaboutit…I’ll get to you eventually. Not ignoring. I’ve noticed you also rolled out of bed very feisty as well. Though I do give you credit for a bit more effort and creativity in your unique style of condescension; a softer side of snide than the raw stuff thrown by Squirmy Wormy. You throw up the middle finger with one hand and a peace sign with the other.

  6. ““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” I smell BS!

    The chance of a college FB player, or any other college athlete, between the age of 19 and 23, dying from COVID-19 is so small that it is almost immeasurable. They’re probably at greater risk of dying from an automobile accident than from COVID-19. They might get sick for a few days, just like when they get the flu. But these young men and women are probably the healthiest people on the planet with the strongest immune systems to be found! The oldest coaches, or those with any kind of underlying health risk, are at greater risk than the players. So this decision is very curious to me, and I suspect that it is the fear of civil litigation that’s driving this decision, not the health of the student-athletes. If you ask a medical doctor for advice, he/she is ALWAYS going to cover their butts and provide the most risk-averse medical advice possible. To say anything else puts them at risk of being sued. They should be consulted, but should not have the power to make policy that affects thousands of athletes.

    Every player should be fully educated and warned about the risks, instructed how to minimize the risks and then given the choice whether or not to play participate. Then, for those who decide to participate, they would sign a waver that prevents them or their families from taking legal action if they do get sick. Every player with any type of underlying health condition that would make them more vulnerable if they contracted COVID-19 should be withheld from participation and get a red-shirt season.

    1. Po, I know that you are sincere, but the myriad of factors that can cause COVID to cause death or long term damage are so complex, so unknown, so various that no one can predict based on gross %’s. There is also the problem of transfer to coaches, staff, support personnel, their families and close contacts, etc. nothing is simple and straightforward about COVID!

      1. My assistant’s niece is just out of college, amateur marathoner, caught COVID. She was very, very, ill for several weeks and now even after a month at home is bedridden except for trips to the toilet and shower. Never mind that all those “voluntary” waiver-signing football players PO imagines would be vectors.

        1. That’s scary. I’ve had a lot of shortness of breath after working out…(my wife is experiencing the same thing). We’ve never been tested but haven’t felt anywhere near 100% for a couple months. I had a 6-week long upper abdominal pain which I didn’t think could possibly be Covid related…Doctor wouldn’t take an appointment and just suggested I take Prilosec. I told him it wasn’t heartburn….He said take it anyway.
          I quit taking the Prilosec after about a week because I knew the difference between heartburn and the pain/pressure I was feeling in the upper gut.
          Pain in stomach finally left…I have yet to go to the doctor or get tested for anything. Shortness of breath still present after some a hard set of weightlifting reps is the main issue now.
          Wife just complains of fatigue and not feeling herself (not recovering well) during and after workouts.

  7. Virtual education… and virtual sports can be done on laptop, big screen in the pub, on the couch, or cell phone by the athletes themselves. Athletes just lay in bed on a Saturday afternoon and networking of media technology for sports. Charge current game ticket prices and continue with advertising and tv contracts. That way players and coaches etc can keep all their scholarships and salaries. Fans can go to arenas, stadiums, swimming pools etc to watch the events on the multi million dollar media already in existence. Country is now bonkers. Bonkers is the new sport.

  8. In my humble opinion, I would be surprised if there is even a football season, both college and pro.

    1. My guess too for college. The NFL worships money. They will bend every opening to generate revenues!

  9. iuhoosier1992-

    The Illinois State Athletic Director made many comments from the heart on the subject. He said how his wife injected some harsh realities into how all of this needs to be consumed from the perspective of being a parent and doing the best for the health of your child. They have a daughter who was all set to attend a prestigious art school in the East. They put the brakes on it. Though her disappointment breaks their heart, they just felt it wasn’t safe. He said he hopes things will improve quickly but as an athletic director he’s far more apprehensive now than a few weeks ago. (Paraphrasing) “How can I be deeply concerned for my daughter’s safety, pull the reins back on her expectations, and then act a different way with other parent’s children I’m entrusted with at Illinois State while placing them into a situation I’m not willing to put my own child in?”

    I think it’s a question all need to ask of themselves. No matter how much money is going to be lost, it’s a game. What will be lost if this is done wrong? And if the dollars in football are so imperative to the existence of all other sports, maybe it’s time to drop the idea that any of this is “amateur” athletics. Maybe it’s time to call these entities something other than “public” enterprises and begin to consider diving deeper into balance sheets along with IRS auditing? Does it make much sense to entrust such vast amounts of public dollars/revenues/expenditures into so few hands forever claiming death to all sports without football? Maybe it’s time for some very thorough audits. Maybe it’s not just the government who charges the U.S. taxpayer $10,000 for a toilet seat?

  10. Ohio State has ALREADY stopped voluntary workouts because of number of positive Covid Tests; Rutgers sitting in and around Ivy League Schools that have cancelled all fall sports. Good Luck to Big ten in getting more than 50% conference games played. IUHoosier I agree with you.

  11. I think the NFL is looking closely at what happens during the NBA “Bubble” season. If the NBA still has a good number of positive cases while supposedly in this “bubble”, then I can’t see the NFL moving forward. MLB is such a mess that I doubt they even start. No one is really paying attention to the NHL, but are trying to do something similar to the NBA, but looking more at Canadian venues due to lower number of positives and trying to create a “bubble” type atmosphere. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I know it has been discussed moving college football to the spring, but I think that would be a nightmare for some of these schools. I agree that 2020-21 college athletics is done and time to look forward to the 2021-22 season.

  12. Your posts left me wondering Davis and H4H,

    If H4H turns out to be COVID-19, then we unknowingly have endured several COVID like viruses in the past. Nearly 20 years ago I went through about a 3 month period with similar symptoms to what you suggest. Evidently it was rampant throughout the health system as even the docs were fighting it off themselves. Thing is, I was much younger then and was able to fight it off, everybody just passed it off as a severe flu-like virus going around.

    As for the Prilosec angle, I have been hearing similar reports of doctors advising the use combinations of certain antihistamines and antacids. Wonder what the docs know that we don’t yet?

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