The Big Ten has officially canceled its fall football season, the first major college conference to pull the plug amid uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.
League presidents and athletic directors have been meeting daily over the past week to discuss the season, which was set to begin on Sept. 5. The decision is expected to produce a domino effect that will eventually lead to all leagues giving up on football this year.
How long it takes for them to get there remains to be seen. Over the past few days, amid all the uncertainty surrounding the season, gaps formed between the biggest conferences. The Big Ten and Pac-12 appeared closest to canceling, according to administrators interviewed by Sportico. The Big 12 was somewhere on the fence, while the ACC and SEC are preaching patience before making a decision.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made,” 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.” The league said it hopes to play football in the spring, as some lower-division conferences have also said.
To give a sense of how quickly things are changing, the Big Ten released its fall football schedule less than a week ago. Since then two smaller conferences have canceled their seasons, an athlete-led movement called #WeWantToPlay became a viral sensation, and politicians like President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence said college football should proceed as normal.
Monday night Sportico asked one Power 5 athletic director if the Big Ten canceling football would put pressure on others to do the same. “I want to say the answer is no,” the administrator said. “But sadly, there becomes a point where it’s hard to stand alone in this deal.”
Led by college football blue-bloods Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State, the 14-school Big Ten is one of the wealthiest and influential conferences in the NCAA. Its teams sold $274 million of football tickets in 2018, and brought in more than $661 million in media rights. It has sent a team to the College Football Playoff in four of the six years that the format has been used.
The Big Ten’s decision produces a whole host of questions. Among them, will Big Ten schools that still want to play this fall try to do so in other conferences, as Nebraska coach Scott Frost suggested on Monday? Will the players themselves look to transfer to other schools, as some have indicated they might? Sportico broke down those possibilities, and others, in a preview of this looming decision.
The Big Ten joins the MAC, Mountain West and three individual schools (UConn, Old Dominion and UMass) as the FBS groups that have officially announced they will not play college football this fall. They represent 28 of 130 FBS schools, about 22% of the membership.