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Big Ten reinstates fall football season, with games scheduled to begin Oct. 23-24

Conference reverses Aug. 11 decision to postpone season

The Big Ten logo on a football field
The Big Ten logo on a football field (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Big Ten announced Wednesday that it has reinstated the 2020 fall football season, with games scheduled to begin Oct. 23-24.

The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously to resume the football season, the conference announced.

Local 4 has learned Big Ten teams will play eight games in eight weeks without fans in attendance. Only family members of the participants will be allowed.

READ: Here are the COVID-19 stats that would force Big Ten teams to stop playing, practicing for 7 days

“Great news today,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Over the past month, I could sense the anticipation from our players and coaches, and I’m thrilled on their behalf that they will have a chance to play a 2020 season. Stay positive. Test negative. Let’s play football.”

“From daily antigen testing for all of our players, coaches and staff to extensive cardiac protocols and protection, the Big Ten Conference and Michigan State are leading the charge to put our players on the field safely and competitively,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “Our players have been relentlessly training in our strength and conditioning program and we will be ready to compete. Thank you to all our Spartan fans for your support and the Big Ten Task Force and the medical leaders who got us here today."

Daily coronavirus (COVID-19) testing of players, coaches and anyone involved with Big Ten football teams will begin Sept. 30, officials said.

Decision reversed

This reversal comes five weeks after Big Ten presidents voted against playing any fall sports.

“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,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said on Aug. 11. “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.”

Harbaugh was the first of many coaches to lash out publicly against the decision, citing the team’s successful coronavirus safety protocols.

“This isn’t easy,” Harbaugh said. “This is hard. It is proven that the conduct, discipline and structure within our program have led to these stellar results. We respect the challenge that the virus has presented, however we will not cower from it.”

It took several weeks, but Harbaugh has gotten his wish. Michigan and the 13 other members of the Big Ten Conference will take the field next month, six weeks after teams from the ACC, SEC and Big 12 kicked off their 2020 seasons.

Six days before postponing the season, Big Ten officials released a modified 10-game, conference-only schedule for each member.

Safety protocols

Student-athletes, coaches, trainers and others 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 daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction test to confirm the result of the POC test.

“The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities," said Dr. Jim Borchers, head team physician at Ohio State.

Each school will designate a chief infection officer to oversee the collection and reporting of data for the Big Ten. Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition, officials said.

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.

In addition to the medical protocols approved, the 14 Big Ten members will establish a cardiac registry in an effort to examine the effects on COVID-19 positive student-athletes, Big Ten officials said. The registry and associated data will attempt to answer many of the unknowns regarding the cardiac manifestations in COVID-19 positive elite athletes.

“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students," said Morton Schapiro, COP/C chair and Northwestern president. "The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference. We appreciate the conference’s dedication to developing the necessary safety procedures for our students and the communities that embrace them.”

“Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes," Warren said. "Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love. We are incredibly grateful for the collaborative work that our Return to Competition Task Force have accomplished to ensure the health, safety and wellness of student-athletes, coaches and administrators.”

Team positivity rate (number of positive tests divided by total number of tests administered):

  • Green 0-2%
  • Orange 2-5%
  • Red >5%

Population positivity rate (number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk):

  • Green 0-3.5%
  • Orange 3.5-7.5%
  • Red >7.5%

Decisions to alter or halt practice and competition will be based on the following scenarios:

  • Green/Green and Green/Orange: Team continues with normal practice and competition.
  • Orange/Orange and Orange/Red: Team must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention (alter practice and meeting schedule, consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition).
  • Red/Red: Team must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved.

Eventually all Big Ten sports will require testing protocols before they can resume playing, conference officials said. Updates on fall sports other than football, as well as winter sports that begin in the fall, including men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and wrestling, will be announced soon, according to the Big Ten.


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