Con­fer­ence pulls plug on au­tumn sea­son; Pac-12 fol­lows suit

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY PAUL MYER­BERG

The Big Ten will not play foot­ball in the fall — with ‘‘the pos­si­bil­ity of com­pe­ti­tion in the spring’’ — be­cause of health con­cerns re­lated to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, the con­fer­ence said Tues­day.

Af­ter a dra­matic few days full of meet­ings among coaches, ath­letic di­rec­tors and uni­ver­sity pres­i­dents, the stun­ning de­ci­sion marks a po­ten­tial tip­ping point for the Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion to play a sea­son amid the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Hours af­ter the Big Ten’s de­ci­sion, the con­fer­ence was joined by the Pac-12, which post­poned all sports un­til Jan. 1 at the ear­li­est.

‘‘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.’’

The Big Ten’s de­ci­sion also means the post­pone­ment of women’s vol­ley­ball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross­coun­try and field hockey. The con­fer­ence said it would con­tinue eval­u­at­ing its op­tions for those sports, as well as sports con­ducted in the win­ter and spring.

‘‘For many months, we had hoped that the re­turn of fall col­le­giate sports might be an op­por­tu­nity to re­store some sense of nor­malcy and pro­vide brighter mo­ments for our uni­ver­sity, our city and our state,” Wis­con­sin chan­cel­lor Re­becca Blank and ath­letic di­rec­tor Barry Al­varez said in a cosigned state­ment. ‘‘Even so, to­day’s de­ci­sion by the Big Ten to post­pone the fall 2020 sports sea­son is the cor­rect one.’’

Not ev­ery Big Ten school sig­naled an align­ment with the de­ci­sion. In a state­ment at­trib­uted to the uni­ver­sity, Ne­braska said it was ‘‘very dis­ap­pointed in the de­ci­sion by the Big Ten Con­fer­ence to post­pone the fall foot­ball sea­son, as we have been and con­tinue to be ready to play.’’

Ohio State ath­letic di­rec­tor Gene Smith said he was aligned with uni­ver­sity pres­i­dent-elect Kristina M. Johnson ‘‘in our ef­forts to de­lay the start of the sea­son rather than post­pone’’ com­pe­ti­tion.

‘‘This is 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,’’ Smith said.

Ohio State said all ath­letes will stay on schol­ar­ship and re­main in the same COVID-19 test­ing, quar­an­tine and iso­la­tion pro­to­cols. Ath­letes still will have ac­cess to team fa­cil­i­ties and nu­tri­tion ar­eas.

The Big 12, South­east­ern and At­lantic Coast con­fer­ences have yet to de­cide on a course of ac­tion for the com­ing sea­son.

One sig­nif­i­cant con­cern for the Big Ten and other con­fer­ences was the po­ten­tial long-term health is­sues that could arise among stu­dent-ath­letes who oth­er­wise might dodge the pri­mary symp­toms of the coro­n­avirus. That in­cludes my­ocardi­tis, an in­flam­ma­tion of the heart mus­cle that can af­fect the heart’s abil­ity to pump blood nor­mally.

Dur­ing an ap­pear­ance on the Big Ten Net­work, War­ren said my­ocardi­tis was ‘‘not the pri­mary rea­son’’ be­hind the con­fer­ence’s de­ci­sion but one of a ‘‘litany of rea­sons.’’

Re­mov­ing the Big Ten and Pac-12 from the sea­son raises ques­tions about the abil­ity to con­duct a hy­po­thet­i­cal post­sea­son and Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off with­out a com­plete ros­ter of con­fer­ences.

‘‘It’s too soon to say what the im­pli­ca­tions will be,’’ play­off ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Bill Han­cock told USA To­day. ‘‘We will wait for guid­ance from the [play­off] board and man­age­ment com­mit­tee.”

In all, four FBS con­fer­ences have de­cided against play­ing in the fall, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 joined by the Mid-Amer­i­can and Moun­tain West. Two in­de­pen­dent pro­grams, Con­necti­cut and Mas­sachusetts, also have de­cided to shift to­ward the po­ten­tial for a spring sea­son.


Illi­nois coach Lovie Smith (top) and North­west­ern coach Pat Fitzger­ald won’t have foot­ball teams to guide this fall.

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