Big Ten football gets green light, games set to start Oct. 23


CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Big Ten football is back.

The conference’s presidents and chancellors unanimously agreed to start the season on Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, just 36 days after an 11-3 vote from the same leaders to postpone games until the spring. New testing protocols, including daily antigen testing and cardiac screening for all 14 teams, was the biggest reason for the push to play this fall. Illinois chancellor Robert Jones spoke for the first time with the media on Wednesday since the decision was made last month.

“Wouldn’t think about reversing that decision based on the information we had at that time. It was the right decision to make, given the gaps that could not give me as the chancellor of this university, the great comfort that sending hundreds of our young men out to play football, that they could do it safely and that it wouldn’t great a bigger problem for the broader university community.”

“This is all about mitigating risk and making sure our student athletes aren’t getting infected as well as our staff isn’t getting infected,” Illinois Associate Director of Athletics in Sports Medicine Randy Ballard said. “We have a duty to protect everyone. Not just our student-athletes but our staff and our community as well.”

The Big Ten will require student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing. Test results must be completed and recorded prior to each practice or game. Student-athletes who test positive for the coronavirus through point of contact (POC) daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result of the POC test.

Each institution will designate a Chief Infection Officer (CInO) who will oversee the collection and reporting of data for the Big Ten Conference. Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition.

All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI. Following cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.

“Everyone knows there’s been a number of hard days, here over the last 6 months, and this is not one of them,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said. “This is a day where we can smile, and feel good about the decision we’ve made, and the excitement I hope we’ve created. I know how badly they want to play, and I know how much today’s decision means to them and the opportunity to go out to Memorial Stadium, and I’m really grateful to affording that opportunity.”

“Now it does mean something,” Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s really hard to keep training when you don’t know exactly when you’re going to play. But now that we have that, of course we can get after it. Our guys, since they came back on campus, we’ve held them to a higher standard. To do your job as a teammate, and you got to take care of business off of the field. and I have all the confidence in the world that our guys will actually do that.”

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