Big Ten to play conference only schedules this fall

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WCIA — The Big Ten will only play conference games this fall, if there’s a season at all.

That’s an important caveat that was included in the release by the league Thursday afternoon, as concerns over the spread of coronavirus continue to intensify, making the cancellation or postponement of college sports this fall more of a reality with each passing day.

“If the Conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports,” the Big Ten announced in a statement. “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 move comes just a day after the Ivy League announced it will not play sports this fall. The Big Ten is the first Power Five conference to announce major alterations to its 2020 schedule. Illinois football had three non-conference games on its schedule this September, hosting Illinois State, UConn and Bowling Green. The other Illini sports impacted are volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country and women’s soccer. Volleyball and women’s soccer each played nine non-conference games last year.

“The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics is encouraged by today’s announcement from the Big Ten Conference regarding plans to resume sports competitions during the coming fall,” the U of I released in a statement. “Health and safety of our students, coaches and staff, and fans remain the first and foremost priority of both the Big Ten and our University, and as the conference made clear today, we will not hesitate to suspend, delay, or cancel competition should such a decision be dictated by community health concerns. The Big Ten released initial plans for fall sports, announcing that they will compete against only Big Ten Conference opponents. In addition, the Big Ten reiterated that for all member schools during this summer and upcoming academic year, participation in sports by our students is voluntary and scholarships and financial aid are protected for all student-athletes regardless of their participation.”

It is unknown exactly how Big Ten programs will alter their schedules based on the league’s decision. The conference currently plays nine league games each season but could fill out its schedule with at least one additional intraleague contest.

The specific conference-only schedule that the Big Ten intends to play this fall — should sports be permitted to be played at all — will be announced at a later date.

With coronavirus continuing to rage across the United States and showing few signs of slowing down, moving to a conference-only schedule helps alleviate many issues the pandemic creates. Not only will teams be able to reduce long-distance travel, conferences will have an easier time implementing universal coronavirus testing standards.

It is unknown how other conferences intend to format their fall schedules. Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk, said Thursday that the SEC’s decision on a conference-only schedule could come at the end of July. 

The Big Ten’s decision comes one day after Ohio State paused voluntary workouts due to COVID-19 testing results and the Ivy League announced that it will not hold intercollegiate sports in the fall but will reevaluate playing sports beginning Jan. 1, 2021.

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