In eliminating nonconference games from fall schedules Thursday, the Big Ten made a move that impacts the major college sports landscape during the coronavirus pandemic, especially in college football.
It was the first logical step toward avoiding cancellation. Still, no fall sports might still be what awaits, with uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, Big Ten leaders voiced Thursday.
“We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten,” conference Commissioner Kevin Warren said on Big Ten Network. “But by making sure we kept our scheduling, our games, our competition within the Big Ten family, it would allow us the flexibility to get us in a better position to possibly play.”
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith spoke months ago of his optimism of having Buckeyes football crowds in the tens of thousands at the least. That tone drastically changed Thursday to concern it might not be safe to play.
Smith aired frustration over people not wearing masks and not following healthy protocols to slow down the coronavirus spread.
“As we went through May, I was feeling optimistic that things were being managed,” Smith said on Big Ten Network. “Then June hit and we begin to loosen up some of the opportunities and now we have a spike again. … I just don’t know if we will be able to compete this fall. But I really like the position we put ourselves in with the conference-only schedule.”
Smith added that it’s easier to cancel conference games and adjust when certain areas have a COVID-19 spike. The arrangement also opened a better opportunity to still play for a conference championship.
The Gophers were scheduled to play nonleague football games against Florida Atlantic (Sept. 3), Tennessee Tech (Sept. 12) and BYU (Sept. 26), all at TCF Bank Stadium. The most prominent nonconference Big Ten football matchup no longer to be played based on the decision will be Wisconsin’s game Oct. 3 vs. Notre Dame at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. In a statement, Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez said the schools are looking into rescheduling the matchup for another season.
Other marquee nonconference matchups now disappearing include Michigan at Washington on Sept. 5, and Ohio State at Oregon, Penn State at Virginia Tech and Iowa at Iowa State on Sept. 12.
Warren said the Big Ten is in the process of finalizing schedules that work best with their TV partners and schools, addressing travel and operations considerations. A 10th conference game is reportedly going to be added in football, while possibly moving division games to be played first.
“Over the next week or so, we’ll work through all of the scheduling issues that we’ll have to deal with, but also provide some great Big Ten football hopefully in the fall to our fans,” he said. “This has been an interesting last four months to say the least on many levels.”
The Gophers are scheduled to play their Big Ten football opener Sept. 18 at home against Iowa, but it’s unclear if that will be postponed. Minnesota’s season was set to start Sept. 3. Other Gophers fall sports include women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s cross-country and women’s soccer.
Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle supported the Big Ten’s decision in a statement Thursday.
“We clearly realize there are more questions than answers right now,” he said. “But we will do our best to answer those appropriately when more information is available.”
A ripple effect of sorts was created when the Ivy League’s decision came Wednesday to postpone all fall sports this year, including football. On the same day, Stanford also cut 11 sports to ease the financial burden on its athletic department.
In the spring, Division II and Division III sports were the first to agree to reduce their football schedules by a couple games to also allow schools more time to deal with the pandemic.