The road to a college football season in the fall is shrouded in a fog of uncertainty, but the Big Ten — having eliminated all non-conference games for fall sports — is moving forward with their plan to limit member programs to conference-only schedules. The news arrives as teams prepare to begin an extended fall preseason practice period this month.
Here is the Big Ten’s tentative new fall football schedule:
The 10-game Big Ten conference schedule is slated to begin on Saturday, Sept. 5. The tweaks include:
- Each team has three open dates on their schedule, including Week 13 (Nov. 28). That affords the conference some flexibility, like being able to push all Week 1 games to Week 13, if need be. In addition, 41 of the 70 games can collapse into one of the two existing bye weeks.
- One additional division crossover matchup has been scheduled for each team
When the Big Ten first announced they were eliminating non-conference games, I speculated that it was an attempt to reduce the amount of air travel for each team. But the prevailing logic seems to be that the conference is more confident they can avoid COVID-19 outbreaks by building a figurative bubble around their member programs and holding each of them to the same safety protocols and testing procedures. There have already been allegations of neglecting and even subverting coronavirus protocols at programs like Colorado State and Eastern Kentucky.
The Big Ten was the first Power 5 conference to reduce their fall schedules, but their peers have all followed suit in the weeks since their initial announcement. The Pac-12 released a new 10-game conference-only schedule with a tentative start date of Sept. 26, and the ACC announced their own 10-game conference schedule, but are allowing each of their member teams to schedule one non-conference game of their choosing. The Big 12 has agreed to a similar scheduling model, after initially resisting the idea of canceling non-conference games. The SEC will also be adopting a 10-game conference-only schedule.
Of course, the release of new schedules is not confirmation that a fall season will happen. Programs like Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan State, Rutgers, Indiana, and Northwestern can all attest to the challenges ahead, as each of them has had to pause offseason workouts at one point or another this summer due to a number of players or coaches testing positive for COVID-19. As of Monday, Rutgers has had 28 football players test positive.
And that has been without students on campus. A number of schools are still determining whether they’ll allow students to return to campus for the fall term or transition to all online classes. The University of Minnesota currently plans to reopen its dormitories, dining halls, and campus spaces under social distancing restrictions, with the expectation that about 70 percent of their 8,900 fall classes will be taught online. Many schools seem to be adopting similar plans.
Schools have said they will honor the scholarships of any student-athletes who opt out of participating this fall, and Illinois running back Ra’Von Bonner became one of the first in the Big Ten to take them up on it, citing concerns about COVID-19.
“[COVID-19] was already on my mind prior to returning to campus,” Bonner told the Tribune. “Playing football, I feel we’re more at risk with the amount of guys we have. In football you have to touch someone else. You can spread that to family members. That’s not what I want. I don’t want to not see my family, my sister, my girlfriend.”
Conversely, some schools are taking serious measures to ensure that student-athletes follow health and safety guidelines. Arizona, for example, suspended starting right tackle Edgar Burrola for violating the athletic department’s COVID-19 protocols.
Players from the Pac-12 have taken matters into their own hands, with hundreds of student-athletes uniting together to demand COVID-19 protections for student-athletes and the mandatory implementation of health and safety standards, in addition to preserving all existing revenue and non-revenue sports and addressing issues of racial injustice and economic inequality.
There will certainly be more developments as the start of the fall semester draws closer, and we will keep you posted on the latest news and updates.