In an unprecedented move, the Big Ten Conference decided Tuesday to drop football and other fall sports from the schedule because of the continuing pandemic, with the hope that most of those sports could be played in the spring.
The fear that the action taken by Big Ten presidents would create a domino effect among Power 5 football programs came to fruition about one hour later when the Pac-12 disclosed that it would cut out its 2020 football season while also casting an eye to compete in the spring.
The Big Ten presidents made the decision despite pushback from coaches such as Penn State’s James Franklin and players. It came six days after the league announced a conference-only schedule of 10 games. Even though the release of the schedule was an encouraging sign that football would be played in the fall, conference commissioner Kevin Warren warned that it did not “guarantee that competition this fall will occur.”
On Tuesday, Warren said the conference looked at “everything we possibly could to have fall sports,” but that the presidents decided that the number of coronavirus cases and the uncertainty about the disease would make it too risky for athletes to participate.
“I made a promise that all the decisions that we will make during my tenure here at the Big Ten will always put the mental and physical health and safety and wellness of our student-athletes at the center,” Warren said in an interview on Big Ten Network.
“When you look at this decision, we just believe collectively there’s too much uncertainty at this point in time in our country to really encourage our student-athletes to participate in fall sports.”
Besides football, fall sports included in the announcement were men’s and women’s cross-country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball. A statement said the conference “will continue to evaluate a number of options regarding these sports, including the possibility of competition in the spring.”
After the Big Ten denied a report Monday that presidents had approved the cancellation of a fall football season, Franklin, his conference colleagues, and players became active on social media expressing their desire for football as scheduled. When the school presidents reconvened on Tuesday, the belief was that they might decide to delay a decision, or set back the start of the season.
Franklin, appearing on ESPN’s Get Up earlier Tuesday, said he felt a decision on football’s fate in the fall should be delayed because more information was needed on what impact a cancellation would mean in regard to scholarships and eligibility, among other factors.
During his appearance, Franklin also said he would look at other options for his players to participate in football in the fall in the event of a cancellation, and that alternative solutions to playing, such as competing in Midwestern indoor stadiums, should be examined for the winter or spring.
Franklin had no immediate comment on the presidents’ announcement, but Penn State vice president of athletics Sandy Barbour said she supported the decision, that it was “best for the long-term health and safety of our student-athletes.
“I know this announcement is one that will hit our student-athletes, coaches and staff very hard,” she said in a statement. “A piece of our student-athletes’ collegiate experience has been taken from them for reasons beyond their control and for that, I am heartbroken.
“I do know our student-athletes are a resilient bunch and will handle today’s news with the same resolve as our winter and spring student-athletes did and be better for it in the end.”
Through a university spokeswoman, Penn State president Eric J. Barron said he supported the decision “based on the health and safety of student-athletes. Nothing is more important to Penn State.”
During his ESPN interview, Franklin appeared ready to follow the suggestion made Monday by Nebraska coach Scott Frost, that his program could seek out its own schedule for 2020 without the Big Ten and “to exhaust every opportunity and option that’s out there.”
“If we can push things back, continue to gather information, and our trainers and doctors and all the medical personnel feel like this is something we could do and should do, then I think I have a responsibility based on the feedback I’ve gotten from my players and my parents to explore any opportunity possible for our players to be able to continue to reach their dreams,” he said.
When asked specifically about Frost’s statement, Warren did not want to address it.
“These are things that I’m sure … there will be a lot of other issues that will arise or be raised that we’ll address at the appropriate time,” he said. “Today’s not the appropriate day to do that.”