The Big Ten Conference abandoned its previous decision to postpone football until the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, and instead approved a fall start that will begin the weekend of Oct. 23-24. The league’s plan will use daily antigen testing and enhanced cardiac screening, according to the Big Ten website.
“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,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, who co-chaired the medical subcommittee of the Big Ten’s Return to Competition Task Force. The earliest a positive-testing player could return to game competition is 21 days after a diagnosis.
The move could entice some of the league’s NFL draft prospects to stay in school rather than opting out of the season in favor of 2021 draft preparation. Also, those who have opted out, if they haven’t signed with an agent or otherwise forfeited their NCAA eligibility, could decide to opt back in. Ohio State’s Shaun Wade, a top cornerback prospect, opted out Monday, but told ElevenWarriors.com he has not signed with an agent. Other top Big Ten players who have opted out include Penn State LB Micah Parsons (who can’t return after having signed with an agent), Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman, Ohio State OL Wyatt Davis, Michigan CB Ambry Thomas, Michigan OL Jalen Mayfield, Northwestern OL Rashawn Slater and Purdue WR Rondale Moore.
An October return also makes it possible for the Big Ten to finish an abbreviated season in time to compete in the College Football Playoff.
The league established the Return to Competition Task Force to explore various models for a safe return for its sports programs. Big Ten presidents and chancellors initially voted 11-3 — with Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska dissenting — to postpone all fall sports on Aug. 11. Among the reasons the league cited was the uncertainty surrounding the long-term effects of COVID-19, which include a risk of myocarditis (heart inflammation). It proved to be a contentious decision, as Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren came under fire from multiple directions, including parent protests, public criticism from conference coaches and a lawsuit filed by a group of Nebraska players in hopes of getting the decision reversed.
The Pac-12 Conference also canceled its fall schedule on Aug. 11, implementing a plan to revisit a potential path forward for impacted sports after January 1, 2021. The other three Power Five leagues — the ACC, Big 12 and SEC — have undergone significant schedule overhauls, but continue to move forward with a fall season.