BIG TEN SACKS FALL ’BALL
Conference pulls plug on autumn season; Pac-12 follows suit
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.