Citing the fluid nature of the coronavirus pandemic, the Big Ten announced Thursday that it will play a conference-only schedule in all fall sports in 2020 but only “if the conference is able to participate based on medical advice.”
Details for scheduling football, men’s and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey, and women’s volleyball will be announced at a later date, the conference said in a statement. It said decisions in other sports will continue to be evaluated.
The Big Ten said the decision was made considering the “health, safety, and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses [as] our number one priority.”
“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 conference said.
The Big Ten added that it was prepared not to play a fall season “in order to ensure the health, safety, and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate.”
“The one thing we have to realize, this is not a fait accompli that we’re going to have sports in the fall,” conference commissioner Kevin Warren said in an interview with Big Ten Network. “We may not have sports in the fall. 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, 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, and an emotional health and wellness standpoint.”
For Penn State football, the decision means the loss of two non-conference home games – Sept. 5 against Kent State and Sept. 19 against San Jose State – along with a much-anticipated trip to Virginia Tech for a Sept. 12 contest.
The Nittany Lions’ first conference game is scheduled for Sept. 26 against Northwestern at Beaver Stadium. They travel to Michigan the following week.
The conference said its decision came after “many thoughtful conversations” among Big Ten presidents, chancellors, and athletic directors along with medical experts and the Big Ten’s office staff. The Athletic reported that head football coaches were able to make their thoughts known Thursday.
Sandy Barbour, Penn State’s vice president for athletics, called the announcement “a very important step that will help provide consistency, clarity and some control over the situation.”
“We feel in order to establish the safest environment possible for our student-athletes, coaches, staff, and our community, this is the best path forward,” she said.
Barbour said she was optimistic about the ability to play sports throughout the 2020-21 academic year.
“We have no doubt it will look, feel, and act differently than we have become accustomed to over time,” she said. “But giving our student-athletes the opportunity to compete in the sport they love and have played their entire lives is important to them individually and us collectively, as well as to the psyche and viability of our community.
“Please have no doubt; it’s not more important than health and safety, but it cannot and will not be easily cast aside.”