The Big Ten announced on September 16 that it will kick-off its football season starting the weekend of October 24. This decision was made after the league’s presidents and chancellors unanimously voted to resume competition. Daily testing capabilities and stronger confidence in the latest medical information were cited as reasons to begin play, the league announced on the morning of September 16.
Each team in the conference will play eight games in eight weeks, leaving little room before the Big Ten championship game scheduled on December 19. Additionally, that date will feature an extra cross-division game for each school, with seeded teams in each division facing off.
The Big Ten will complete its season before the December 20 Selection Day for the College Football Playoff. Fans are not expected to be permitted at Big Ten games, which will be held on campus during the season.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said the official schedule will be released later during the week of September 16.
“Great news today. Over the past month, I could sense the anticipation from our players and coaches, and I’m thrilled on their behalf that they will have a chance to play a 2020 season. Stay positive. Test negative. Let’s play football,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on September 16 in a statement.
On August 11, the Big Ten initially postponed its fall sports seasons because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. The presidents and chancellors voted 11-3 to postpone the season, with Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa being the only three electing to proceed, according to sources. League rules require at least 60% of presidents and chancellors to approve a return of the fall football season.
After the postponement was announced, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren formed a return to competition task force, which presented to the presidents and chancellors before voting reviewed daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and a data-driven approach to make decisions about practices and games.
The Big Ten’s daily rapid testing program will begin September 30 on all 14 campuses. Test results must be completed and recorded before each practice or game. Each Big Ten team will also designate a chief infection officer to report data about testing to the league, which will make decisions about practice and games based on team positivity rate and population positivity rate
Players who test positive for COVID-19 must wait at least 21 days to return to competition, as they will undergo “comprehensive cardiac testing” before being cleared by a cardiologist designated by each school mainly for that purpose. Concerns about myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by viral infections like COVID-19, contributed greatly to the Big Ten’s initial decision to postpone the fall football season.
The league will use a color-coded system of green, orange and red for both team positivity rates and population positivity rates.
If the team’s positivity rate goes over 5% or the population’s positivity rate exceeds 7.5%, the team must pause practice and competition for at least seven days. If the team’s positive rate is between 2% and 5% or the population’s positivity rate is between 3.5% and 7.5%, the team “must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention.”
“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” Dr. Jim Borchers, head team physician at Ohio State and co-chair of the return to competition task force’s medical subcommittee, said in a statement. “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.”
The Big Ten will join six FBS conferences (including the ACC, Big 12 and SEC) in playing fall football seasons. ACC and Big 12 teams have already begun play while the SEC is set to kick-off its conference-only schedule on September 26.