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Big Ten nixes fall football season, eyes spring

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  • Author of seven books on college football
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Big Ten Conference presidents and chancellors voted Tuesday to postpone all fall sports seasons, including football, amid the coronavirus pandemic with the hopes of playing in the spring.

“All the decisions we would make during my tenure here will always put the mental and physical health and wellness of our student-athletes at the center,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told Big Ten Network. “We just believed collectively there’s too much uncertainty at this point in time in our country to encourage our student-athletes to participate in fall sports.

“… It doesn’t mean that we’re giving up forever. We continually have to gather information and look forward to the future. But there’s so much uncertainty. This is a very, very trying time. This is one of those days you really hope in your career you never have to deal with these kinds of issues. But that’s not the case in life. We have to deal with the issues presented in front of us.”

Sources confirmed to ESPN that the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors followed the Big Ten’s lead and also voted to postpone its fall sports season, including football. Stadium was the first to report the Pac-12’s decision.

On Sunday, ESPN first reported that Big Ten presidents, following a meeting on Saturday, were ready to cancel the fall sports season, and they wanted to gauge whether commissioners and university presidents and chancellors from the other Power Five conferences — the ACC, Big 12 and SEC — would fall in line with them.

Sources told ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura on Monday night that the growing sense around the conference is that it is highly unlikely the Pac-12 will move forward with a fall season amid concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic and will look to playing in the spring, if possible.

Officials with the ACC and SEC have indicated they plan to proceed with seasons this fall, but it’s unclear whether the Big Ten’s decision will change those plans. As for the Big 12, it’s not entirely clear what the conference’s intentions are as some of its member schools seem to be divided on whether playing this fall or trying to go in the spring

In making its decision, the Big Ten said it relied on the medical advice and counsel of the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.

“Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff,” Morton Schapiro, the Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University president, said in a statement.

The University of Nebraska, after Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost on Monday said his program is prepared “to look at any and all options” in order to play this fall, issued a joint statement Tuesday saying “we are very disappointed in the decision by the Big Ten.”

“We have been and continue to be ready to play,” said the joint statement from Nebraska chancellor Ronnie Green, president Ted Carter, athletics director Bill Moos and Frost. “Safety comes first. Based on the conversations with our medical experts, we continue to strongly believe the absolute safest place for our student athletes is within the rigorous safety protocols, testing procedures, and the structure and support provided by Husker Athletics.

“… We hope it may be possible for our student athletes to have the opportunity to compete.”

Warren, who on Tuesday said he took Frost’s statements “as a point of passion,” would not say whether the vote to cancel the fall season was unanimous.

“Our schools, we don’t always agree, but people understand … that we will be together in the Big Ten,” Warren said.

Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith said he and university president-elect Kristina Johnson were in agreement to delay the start of the fall sports seasons, instead of postponing to the spring.

“This is an incredibly sad day for our student-athletes, who have worked so hard and been so vigilant fighting against this pandemic to get this close to their season,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. “My heart aches for them and their families. President-elect Johnson and I were totally aligned in our efforts to delay the start of the season rather than postpone. I am so grateful to her for all her efforts in support of our student-athletes and a traditional fall season.

“As an institution and as an athletic department, we have a responsibility first and foremost to care for the health, safety and wellness of our students and staff, and I believe we have done that successfully.”

Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields, considered a Heisman Trophy contender and a top-four NFL draft prospect by ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, made his feelings known about the Big Ten decision on Twitter.

Besides football, other sports impacted are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally. For many students and staff, it has brought anxiety and stress and we are all looking forward to a time when things begin to look and feel more ‘normal,'” University of Wisconsin chancellor Rebecca Blank and athletic director Barry Alvarez said in a joint statement.

“For many months, we had hoped that the return of fall collegiate sports might be an opportunity to restore some sense of normalcy and provide brighter moments. … Even so, today’s decision by the Big Ten to postpone the fall 2020 sports season is the correct one.”

ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg contributed to this report.

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