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Big Ten officially cancels 2020 fall sports season, including football

The conference hopes to push competition to spring 2021.

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There will be no Michigan State Spartans football this autumn. After a whirlwind couple of days, we finally know the fate of the 2020 fall college football season for the Big Ten Conference. Due to ongoing concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic — and based on the advice and council from the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee — the Big Ten has decided to officially cancel (or “postpone”) the fall campaign, with a hope to play in the spring of 2021.

Other fall sports, including men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball have also have also been canceled for the fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.

UPDATE: Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker, who will have to wait even longer to begin his first regular season at the helm, made a statement on the decision:

This was inevitable, as the news was reported yesterday by multiple outlets. Pushing the season to the spring will have its own logistical challenges, but that’s a story for a different time. However, there was pushback from coaches, players and others about the decision to cancel, with Nebraska’s Scott Frost going as far to say the Cornhuskers will play outside of the Big Ten if necessary, in order to play football in 2020.

“We’re a proud member of the Big Ten,” Frost said. “We want to play a Big Ten schedule. I think the only reason we would look at any other options is if for some reason the Big Ten wasn’t playing and only a handful of teams from the Big Ten wanted to continue playing. I think if that’s the case, I think we’re prepared to look at any and all options.”

Following this breaking news, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green, athletic director Bill Moos, university system president Ted Carter and Frost had this to say in unison:

Whether or not Nebraska can actually pull something like that off as a member of the Big Ten remains to be seen. If Nebraska does break away from the conference for this season, it does not sound as if the Cornhuskers will be welcomed back into the Big Ten with open arms.

Other Big Ten coaches, such as Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), Ryan Day (Ohio State) and James Franklin (Penn State) spoke out against canceling the fall season outright and would have rather delayed the start a few weeks.

Harbaugh’s statement:

Day’s tweet:

Franklin’s statement:

Several college football players, from all conferences, have also spoken out about wanting to play this fall, such as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Other players have made statements about feeling safer within the operations of their football facilities, where they are constantly tested, or where their home situations may not be ideal.

The Big Ten found itself in an impossible situation, and didn’t handle it very gracefully. What is the right answer here, though? You either cancel the season, with hopes to play in the spring (which isn’t guaranteed), and lose out on tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars for each school in revenue, and you take away lifelong dreams for student athletes, which is undoubtedly going to affect their mental states to some degree in most cases. MSU athletic director Bill Beekman estimates a direct revenue loss of $80-$85 million if football isn’t played, though the exact parameters he is speaking about are unclear. Additionally, businesses in college towns who rely on gameday crowds is going to suffer at an extreme level.

Or, you play it out and risk the health of unpaid college athletes and risk spreading the coronavirus further to coaches, staffers, students, family members, etc. who may come into contact with a player who unknowingly is carrying the virus. And it’s a never ending cycle. What we also don’t know is how eligibility or scholarship allotment will be handled moving forward. According to Wisconsin athletic director, Barry Alvarez, teams will get to stay on a 20-hour a week regimen this fall, which includes workouts, drills and walk-throughs. As far as this year goes, Ohio State has already announced that players on scholarship will remain on scholarship, athletes will still have access to team facilities, weight rooms, mental health services, tutoring, etc. I expect this to be the case for all Big Ten schools — these players aren’t just going to be sent home. It is the uncertainty of what the future holds on the medical side that makes everything so scary, though.

Arguments have been made that death rates from COVID-19 is low amongst college-age people, and athletes whose bodies are in peak condition. I am no medical expert and would never claim to be, but on the contrary, there is enough evidence out there to determine that younger people are contracting the virus at an alarming rate. And even if the death rate isn’t high, there are other long-term health risks associated with the virus. For example, a big reason for the Big Ten’s (and other conferences’) desire to cancel the season was due to concerns regarding Myocarditis — a rare condition that causes inflammation of the heart believed to be linked to COVID-19. According to ESPN, at least five Big Ten athletes and several other athletes amongst various conferences were found to have had this condition. The Athletic is now reporting that number to be at least 10.

My personal belief — as much as it pains me to say this because I truly don’t know how I will get along without college football — it is the right decision to cancel the season and try again in the spring. Maybe you disagree with me, and you’re entitled to that, but if the argument is revenue versus human health and safety, the answer and top priority should be health and safety every single time. Again, these “student-athletes” aren’t being compensated to generate all of that revenue the NCAA, conferences and individual schools are making (under normal circumstances), and I know some of these athletes don’t care about that, but if that is the driving force behind why football should be played this fall, our priorities are way off.

There is no easy answer here, but the Big Ten ultimately made the right call by following what its medical experts advised. It won’t be easy to take for football fans as passionate as I am, but we’re at a point where this is the most logical conclusion.

UPDATE: The Pac-12 Conference has also postponed all athletic competitions through the end of the 2020 calendar year.