TAYLOR COUNTY—With the biggest changes seemingly yet to come, the Big 10 Conference announced on Thursday that they will be moving to a “conference-only” fall sports slate, possibly setting the stage for other major college football conferences to follow.
As the first member of the Bowl Subdivision to take such a monumental step, the Big 10’s move could set forth a domino effect across the highest level of college sports given the continued uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
The attention will now turn to the ACC, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC to see what the plans might be for those respective conferences in the upcoming weeks and months. When asked if there would be an announcement coming soon from the Big 12 on playing a conference-only schedule, league commissioner Bob Bowlsby replied, “no.”
The other four conferences have chimed in regularly with their thoughts regarding the upcoming sports season and although none have made a concrete decision yet, the wheels appear to be turning.
In a statement issued by SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, “the conference will continue to meet regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks, guided by medical advisors, to make the important decisions necessary to determine the best path forward related to SEC fall sports. We recognize the challenges ahead and know the well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff, and fans must remain at the forefront of those decisions.”
However the Pac-12, who has a significant Rose Bowl partnership with the Big 10, has already had discussions about playing a conference-only schedule in football and met yesterday, although information from that meeting was not yet available.
The ACC is also discussing the option moving to conference-only games but hasn’t reached that decision just yet, a league official said on Thursday.
The Big 10 was the first major conference to decide to eliminate nonconference teams from its schedule based on medical advice and under the assumption that the league is still able to participate in fall sports.
The NCAA allowed student-athletes to return to campuses on June 1st to begin participating in voluntary team activities. But since then, many Division 1 athletics departments have experienced a substantial amount of positive COVID-19 tests, including the likes of Clemson, LSU, and Texas. The positive tests include athletes and coaches from all sports and is not just limited to football.
Because of the rise in positive numbers, several programs have decided to suspend workouts. Ohio State and North Carolina placed team activities on hold on Wednesday, with UNC announcing it was suspending workouts after 37 student-athletes tested positive among 429 coronavirus tests.
According to a statement issued by the league, limiting competitions to conference-only play will give the Big Ten “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 conference is “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’s statement said that details regarding schedules will be released at a later date. The Big 10 traditionally plays nine conference games in football.
The Big 10’s conference-only decision has already affected West Virginia University, as the
Mountaineers and Maryland Terrapins were set to play each other in football on Saturday, September 19th in Morgantown.
The decision comes after the Ivy League announced on Wednesday that they decided to cancel all fall sports, the first such move from a conference that competes at the FBS level.
The Big Ten’s move also eliminates several notable non-conference games from their football schedules, including Ohio State versus Oregon, Michigan versus Washington, and Wisconsin versus Notre Dame.
Teams who could feel the biggest impact however might be the smaller programs who rely on “guaranteed games” at major schools for a big part of their athletic budgets.
Bowling Green, for example, is set to lose $2.2 million dollars with the elimination of the Ohio State game.
It is unclear at this time how the details of those contracts will be negotiated.