Big Ten Announces Conference-Only Schedule for 2020 College Football Season

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  • Big Ten becomes first conference to mandate conference-only play for the fall sports schedule
  • Football, field hockey, and soccer among the sports affected by the news
  • Other conferences, including the ACC and Pac-12, are expected to announce similar plans

The calendar recently flipped to July, which means the college football season is on the horizon. While games would traditionally begin toward the end of August in a normal year, 2020 is obviously far from a normal year.

There is growing concern that the coronavirus pandemic will wind up disrupting college football the way it has other American sports. Leagues like the NBA, NHL, and MLS have had to endure length hiatuses in the middle of their seasons due to the virus. The spread of COVID-19, which began in earnest in the United States in March, also forced the NCAA to abruptly pull the plug on all spring sports.

The NCAA was obviously hoping that the pandemic wouldn’t affect the fall football schedule, but that won’t be the case. With the virus still cascading out of control in the US, schools are having to adjust their plans. On Thursday, the Big Ten announced that its football schedule would be limited to conference-only play for all sports, including football.

In a statement, the Big Ten said, “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. 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 fluid nature of the pandemic.”

Ivy League Postponed Sports Until Spring

The Big Ten is the first of the Power 5 conferences to take such a dramatic step, but it likely won’t be the last. On Wednesday, the Ivy League took the extra step by postponing all fall and winter sports to the spring.

If football is allowed to proceed, Big Ten operatives preferred the idea of limiting games to intraconference play. That will eliminate long-distance travel and help ensure that players and other team personnel are able to be tested for coronavirus routinely.

Cross country, soccer, volleyball and field hockey are also among the sports affected by the conference’s decision. The Big Ten said it will release an updated schedule at a later date. Presidents from the conference reportedly discussed the plans earlier this week before coming to a consensus.

Marquee Football Games Scrapped

As a result of the decision, a number of high-profile college football games featuring Big Ten schools won’t take place as scheduled. Games like Ohio State vs. Oregon, Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame, and Penn State vs. Virginia Tech will likely be rescheduled for next year at the earliest:

It has been reported that the ACC and Pac-12 are considering a similar conference-only schedule, but no formal announcement has been made as of yet. Because the wind seems to be blowing in that direction, it feels safe to assume that the Big 12 and SEC will make the same plans in the days or weeks to come.

Football Season Still Uncertain

While the Big Ten is still planning for football to take place, the adjustment in schedule does not mean those games are sure to happen. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith had been optimistic about football taking place earlier this year, but his latest comments cast much more doubt. In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Smith said he has gone from “cautiously optimistic” about football to saying he is “very concerned” about whether the games will be allowed to take place.

Conference officials have said that schools are willing to help Notre Dame plan games, if necessary. Notre Dame football isn’t a part of any conference, which means a conference-only schedule could leave the Fighting Irish without any opponents.

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