The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday it will not play nonconference games in football and several other sports this fall, the most dramatic move yet by a power conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The league cited medical advice in making its decision and added ominously that the plan would be applied only “if the conference is able to participate in fall sports.”
“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 league said.
Besides football, the sports affected include men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.
“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 said.
The announcement came a day after the Ivy League called off fall sports and Stanford announced it was cutting 11 varsity sports as it struggles with the financial impact the virus outbreak is having on its budget.
Among the lost football games are Iowa’s annual Cy-Hawk rivalry with Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa’s season opener at Iowa. UNI’s athletics department would have secured $650,000 for the game in Iowa City.
“We fully support the actions being taken by the Big Ten Conference, knowing that the health, safety, and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff is the top priority,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said, in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “The past few months have entailed numerous conversations between my conference colleagues, Commissioner (Kevin) Warren and our Big Ten presidents, as we have worked to navigate the challenges associated with this pandemic.
“The uncertainties have been difficult on our student-athletes and coaches and I appreciate their continued understanding of the situation. I am grateful for our fans who are also waiting for direction. While many uncertainties still exist, today’s decision will provide the greatest amount of flexibility as we move forward.”
There was no immediate reaction from the other big conferences, though the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have all indicated they intend to play fall sports, anchored by football, by far the biggest moneymaker.
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk was asked about the possible rationale for a conference-only schedule.
“Probably, it’s a comfort level of how protocols are being enacted, how testing is done and then keeping it within that family, if you will — your expanded social circle or social pod,” said Sterk, whose Tigers play in the SEC. “You might be able to control things more that way, or feel like you can, anyway versus the unknown of people coming from outside our 11 states.”
The marquee nonconference matchups in the Big Ten this season included Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. A handful of teams were scheduled to play two Big Ten opponents, including Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois.
The Big Ten said it would release detailed schedules later and continue to evaluate other sports. The league said its schools will honor scholarships for athletes who choose not to compete in the upcoming academic year because of concerns about the coronavirus.
Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson said he and his Big Ten colleagues “know that there remain many questions that still need to be answered, and we will work toward finding those answers in the coming weeks.”
— AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee and Cliff Brunt and Courier sports reporter Nick Petaros contributed to this report.
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