Big Ten scraps non­con­fer­ence games for foot­ball, other fall sports due to pan­demic

The Maui News - - Sports - By JOHN ZENOR The As­so­ci­ated Press

Pac-12 re­port­edly to fol­low suit; UH has three op­po­nents from con­fer­ence

The Big Ten Con­fer­ence an­nounced Thurs­day it will not play non­con­fer­ence games in foot­ball and sev­eral other sports this fall, the most dra­matic move yet by a power con­fer­ence be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

The con­fer­ence cited med­i­cal ad­vice in mak­ing its de­ci­sion and added omi­nously that the plan would be ap­plied only “if the con­fer­ence is able to par­tic­i­pate in fall sports.”

Big Ten Com­mis­sioner Kevin War­ren said it was “much eas­ier if we’re just work­ing with our Big Ten in­sti­tu­tions” in terms of things like sched­ul­ing and trav­el­ing.

“We may not have sports in the fall,” War­ren told the Big Ten Net­work. “We may not have a col­lege foot­ball sea­son in the Big Ten.

“So we just wanted to make sure that this was the next log­i­cal step to al­ways rely on our med­i­cal ex­perts to keep our stu­dent-ath­letes at the cen­ter of all of our de­ci­sions and make sure that they are as healthy as they pos­si­bly can be from a men­tal, a phys­i­cal, an emo­tional health and well­ness stand­point.”

The other big con­fer­ences — the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 — have all in­di­cated they in­tend to play fall sports. How­ever, the Pac-12 is ex­pected to fol­low the Big Ten in elim­i­nat­ing non­con­fer­ence com­pe­ti­tion, The Ath­letic re­ported, cit­ing “mul­ti­ple in­dus­try in­sid­ers.”

That would be dis­as­ter­ous for the Univer­sity of Hawaii foot­ball team, which is sched­uled to face three Pac-12 teams this sea­son: Ari­zona (Aug. 29), UCLA (Sept. 5) and Ore­gon (Sept. 19).

The Rain­bow War­riors have al­ready lost one op­po­nent for 2020 — Ford­ham con­firmed ear­lier this week that it was can­cel­ing its game at Aloha Sta­dium sched­uled for Sept. 12. If the Pac-12 games also fall through, and no re­place­ment op­po­nents can be found, UH’s opener wouldn’t be un­til Oct. 3 at home against Mountain West foe Ne­vada.

There has been deep un­ease that the pan­demic will deal a blow to fall sports af­ter wip­ing out hun­dreds of games, in­clud­ing March Mad­ness, this past spring. More than a dozen schools have re­ported pos­i­tive tests for the virus among ath­letes in the past month, but the bad news picked up this week as the Ivy League can­celed all fall sports and Stan­ford an­nounced it was cut­ting 11 var­sity sports.

The Big Ten de­ci­sion is the big­gest yet be­cause Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion foot­ball games — more than 40 of them, all mon­ey­mak­ers in dif­fer­ent ways — were sim­ply erased. And the move didn’t wash away fears the en­tire fall sea­son could be in jeop­ardy.

“I am re­ally con­cerned, that is the ques­tion of the day,” Ohio State ath­letic di­rec­tor Gene Smith said on a con­fer­ence call af­ter the an­nounce­ment. “I was cau­tiously op­ti­mistic. I’m not even there now.”

Be­sides foot­ball, the sports af­fected in­clude cross coun­try, field hockey, soc­cer and women’s vol­ley­ball.

“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 said.

The mar­quee non­con­fer­ence matchups in the Big Ten this sea­son in­cluded Notre Dame vs. Wis­con­sin on Oct. 3 at Lam­beau Field. Other big matchups in­cluded Michi­gan at Wash­ing­ton, Ohio State-Ore­gon, Penn State-Vir­ginia Tech and Mi­ami-Michi­gan State.

Much of the pain will be felt at smaller schools that lean heav­ily on the big-money games to help fund their ath­letic bud­gets. Hours be­fore the Big Ten an­nounce­ment, North­ern Iowa, which will lose a Sept. 5 game at Iowa, said it ex­pected an athletics bud­get short­fall to ex­ceed $1 mil­lion.

The Maui News con­trib­uted to this story.

Lin­coln Journal Star via AP / Ja­cob Han­nah photo

Turf man­ager Jared Hertzel touches up the newly painted Big Ten con­fer­ence logo on the field at Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Lin­coln, Neb., in Oc­to­ber 2011. The Big Ten Con­fer­ence an­nounced Thurs­day it will not play non­con­fer­ence games in foot­ball as well as sev­eral other sports this fall be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

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