ANN ARBOR, Mich. – There are two coronavirus (COVID-19) statistics outlined in the Big Ten’s plan to resume fall football that, if a specific level is reached, will force teams to stop playing and practicing for at least seven days.
The decision comes with stringent COVID-19 safety guidelines, headlined by two main statistics the conference will monitor throughout the season:
Two COVID-19 stats
The two stats outlined in the Big Ten release are team positivity rate and population positivity rate.
Team positivity rate is described as the “number of number of positive COVID-19 tests divided by total number of tests administered.”
If the team positivity rate is between 0% and 2%, that’s considered in the “green” range. Between 2% and 5% is the “orange” range, and any percentage greater than 5% is considered the “red” range.
Big Ten officials define population positivity rate and the “number of COVID-19 positive individuals divided by the total population at risk."
If the population positivity rate is between 0% and 3.5%, that’s considered in the “green” range. Between 3.5% and 7.5% is the “orange” range, and any percentage greater than 7.5% is considered the “red” range.
Conference officials will use these green, orange and red categories to determine when to alter or shut down practices and games for each team.
If a team is in the green range for both statistics or in the green for one and orange for the other, they can continue practices and games as normal.
When both statistics are in the orange range, or one is orange and one is red, teams have to “proceed with caution” and enhance their COVID-19 prevention protocols, such as altering practice and meeting schedules and considering whether the next game should be played.
If a team gets into the red range for both statistics -- team positivity rate above 5% and population positivity rate above 7.5% -- it has to stop regular practicing and games for at least seven days and reassess those rates until they’ve improved.
The earliest a player can play in a game after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis is 21 days after that diagnosis, league officials said.
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.”
Michigan coach Jim 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.
It’s unclear exactly what the schedules will look like. Six days before postponing the season, Big Ten officials released a modified 10-game, conference-only schedule for each member. Even without bye weeks, a 10-game schedule would carry the Big Ten football season through Christmas. It’s possible the schedules will be adjusted and shortened once again.
Daily coronavirus (COVID-19) testing of players, coaches and anyone involved with Big Ten football teams will begin Sept. 30, officials said.
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.
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.”
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.