After initially canceling its fall football season, the Big Ten announced Wednesday that it will reverse course and hold its football season this autumn. The decision was reached via a vote by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors and was based on information provided to the Council by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force, according to a press release from the conference.
The Big Ten regular season will be eight games in length and will feature only in-conference games. The season is scheduled to begin the weekend of Oct. 24, and will have no bye weeks. The Big Ten Football Championship Game will be played on Dec. 19, the day before the College Football Playoff Selection Committee makes its decision on which teams will participate in the College Football Playoff. The championship game will take place just in time for Big Ten teams to be considered for College Football Playoff selection. In addition to the championship game, each Big Ten team will play a ninth additional game that week, with those matchups to be determined.
Along with its announcement about the resumption of football, the Big Ten also released its extensive health and safety protocols that will be put into effect for the season. According to the protocol, every player and staff member will undergo a daily COVID-19 test. Each university will appoint a Chief Infection Officer to oversee this process and report the data to the Big Ten. Any student-athlete who tests positive must wait 21 days before he can return to practice and competition.
Both team positivity rate and population positivity rate will be kept track of at each school. If the team positivity rate exceeds 5 percent and the population positivity rate exceeds 7.5 percent, then the team must cease practice for at least seven days.
In addition to COVID-19 testing, each student-athlete must undergo cardiac testing prior to the start of the season. Players must get cleared by a cardiologist before being allowed to practice and play.
“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, Head Team Physician at Ohio State and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee. “The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities.”
On Saturday, the Big Ten released its full schedule for the season. Each team will play six opponents from its own division and two opponents from the opposite division. Notable opening-weekend games include Nebraska at Ohio State and Michigan at Minnesota. Michigan and Ohio State will renew their heated rivalry at the Horseshoe on the weekend of Dec. 12, the last weekend of the regular season, per tradition.
With the Big Ten’s announcement, four of the five major conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) will now have fall college football seasons. The lone holdout is the Pac-12, and they too are taking steps toward reversing their own decision to not play football in the fall. The Pac-12 CEO Group met on Friday to discuss the matter and are planning on holding a vote on Sept. 24, according to a statement.
Though the coronavirus pandemic has forced some scheduling changes, the college football season has carried on relatively smoothly thus far without any major complications. With the help of the conference’s health and safety protocols, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren hopes that the Big Ten season can be conducted with such smoothness, and with the safety of the student-athletes as the top priority.
“Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes,” Warren said. “Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love. We are incredibly grateful for the collaborative work that our Return to Competition Task Force have accomplished to ensure the health, safety and wellness of student-athletes, coaches and administrators.”