The Big Ten on Thursday announced it will be going to a conference-only season for all fall sports, including football, amid “unprecedented times” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority,” the Big Ten said 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 Big Ten is the first of the Power 5 conferences to make this type of a major change to its fall sports. The Ivy League on Wednesday ruled out playing all sports this fall.
If college football can be played this fall, Big Ten presidents and athletic directors preferred the conference-only model, which will eliminate some long-distance travel and help ensure teams are being tested for the coronavirus universally, multiple sources inside the league and around college football told ESPN.
Other sports affected include men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.
The new conference-only schedules for all fall sports will be released at a later date, the Big Ten said. The conference also said it would continue to evaluate other sports.
Big Ten presidents and ADs discussed the issues during a conference call earlier this week, and the league’s head coaches were given an opportunity to weigh in on Thursday morning.
“As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate,” the Big Ten statement said.
The conference also said it was working with the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee to finalize protocols for the upcoming fall seasons.
The Big Ten said all student-athletes choosing not to participate in sports during the 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about COVID-19 “will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.”
Some Big Ten schools preferred playing only conference foes in football with one additional nonleague game — thus preserving some of the marquee non-Big Ten matchups — but there was overwhelming support for a 10-game conference-only schedule, the sources said.
An assistant coach at a Big Ten program told ESPN that his head coach instructed him to stop scouting and otherwise preparing for nonconference opponents and focus only on Big Ten foes.
The Big Ten’s potential decision to play only conference opponents would affect 36 scheduled football opponents, 28 from the FBS and eight from the FCS. Six FBS schools — Ball State, Bowling Green, BYU, Central Michigan, UConn and Northern Illinois — are scheduled to play two Big Ten opponents this season.
The Big Ten would lose marquee nonconference matchups, including Michigan‘s road game at Washington on Sept. 5, Ohio State‘s trip to Oregon on Sept. 12, Michigan State‘s home game against Miami on Sept. 26 and Wisconsin‘s contest against Notre Dame at Lambeau Field on Oct. 3.
ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg contributed to this story.