WCIA — The Big Ten Conference will not play sports this fall. The presidents and chancellors from league schools decided not to compete due to COVID-19, rather than waiting any longer in 2020.
“The discussions that led to the decision to postpone fall sports were as frank and honest as they were difficult,” Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones said in a statement. “We recognize the intense disappointment this will bring to our student-athletes, coaches, athletic staff and fans. But as important as collegiate athletic competition is to the Big Ten university experience, the health and safety of our students, staff, faculty and campus community must be our priority. There are just too many unknowns with COVID-19 today and the future continues to be just as unclear as it was months ago. We feel this decision offers the best way to maximize the safety of everyone involved. But that doesn’t make it any easier to hear for any of us who love sports.”
The Big Ten Conference relied on the medical advice and counsel of the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren in statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.
“We know how significant the student-athlete experience can be in shaping the future of the talented young women and men who compete in the Big Ten Conference. Although that knowledge made this a painstaking decision, it did not make it difficult. While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point. Everyone associated with the Big Ten Conference and its member institutions is committed to getting everyone back to competition as soon as it is safe to do so.”
At Illinois, the announcement means no football, volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country and women’s soccer. The Big Ten announced decisions regarding winter and spring sports will continue to be evaluated moving forward.
“My heart hurts for our student-athletes and coaches,” Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said. “Over these last months, countless people, including our student-athletes, coaches, sports medicine professionals, and so many other staff members have worked tirelessly to give our teams the best chance to compete this fall. Our people have done everything we have asked of them, which makes today’s decision so disappointing. The bar set here at the University of Illinois for testing and the return-to-play protocol is second-to-none, and I am proud of our progress.
“Unfortunately, despite best efforts on our campus and across the conference, the remaining unknowns and uncertainties stemming from COVID-19 ultimately proved insurmountable,” Whitman continued. “The health and safety of our student-athletes, staff, and our community must drive our decisions. We will support our student-athletes as they deal with the emotions stemming from today’s decision. We continue to work with the Big Ten on future plans as we move forward with returning our student-athletes to classes and training.”
Less than two hours before the official announcement, Illinois football coach Lovie Smith gave his best pitch to keep the season, saying he wanted to play multiple times.