The likelihood of a fall college football season was greatly reduced Tuesday after the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences announced they would not play because of player health and safety concerns regarding COVID-19.
The Pac-12 announced it was canceling its fall football season Tuesday afternoon a little more than an hour after the Big Ten did the same thing. Stadium broke the news of cancellation of the Pac-12’s fall season, while Yahoo first reported the Big Ten’s news.
The cancellations of both leagues place doubt on whether there will be any college football this fall, as now a total of 53 of the 130 FBS programs are not playing in the fall, including four of the 10 FBS conferences.
Besides the Pac-12 and Big Ten, the Mountain West and Mid-American also opted out the past few days along with Old Dominion, UConn and UMass.
When the MAC became the first conference to cancel its fall season Saturday, a Power 5 source told Stadium, “College football season is done. I don’t think everyone immediately follows the MAC, but it gives other league presidents one more reason to make an easier decision. The biggest thing is unknown long-term impact of COVID-19 and liability issues involved.”
That sentiment – the long-term impact of COVID-19 – was part of the reason the Pac-12 and Big Ten announced they wouldn’t play in 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,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said. “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.
“We know how significant the student-athlete experience can be in shaping the future of the talented young women and men who compete in the Big Ten Conference. Although that knowledge made this a painstaking decision, it did not make it difficult. While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point. Everyone associated with the Big Ten Conference and its member institutions is committed to getting everyone back to competition as soon as it is safe to do so.”
The Big Ten’s fall sports included are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball. The Big Ten will continue to evaluate a number of options regarding these sports, including the possibility of competition in the spring. Decisions regarding winter and spring sports will also continue to be evaluated.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott also addressed the health and safety of the student-athletes as a factor contributing to the conference’s decision.
“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” Scott said. “Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.”
Scott said while the Pac-12’s detailed plan to keep student-athletes safe was working in accordance with the Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee guidelines and state and local government orders, the situation was becoming more challenging.
“Unlike professional sports, college sports cannot operate in a bubble,” Scott said. “Our athletic programs are a part of broader campuses in communities where in many cases the prevalence of COVID-19 is significant. We will continue to monitor the situation and when conditions change we will be ready to explore all options to play the impacted sports in the new calendar year.”
While the Pac-12 said its vote was unanimous among its 12 schools, Warren would not say if the Big Ten’s decision was unanimous.
After the Big Ten’s announcement, Nebraska officials didn’t hide the school’s displeasure in the decision.
“We are very disappointed in the decision by the Big Ten Conference to postpone the fall football season, as we have been and continue to be ready to play,” reads a joint statement from the school’s president, athletic director and football coach Scott Frost. “We will continue to consult with medical experts and evaluate the situation as it emerges. We hope it may be possible for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to compete.”
On Monday, there were numerous reports that the Big Ten had already voted 12-2 to cancel the season. However, a Big Ten spokesman refuted those reports and said no voting occurred on Monday.
Later on Monday, several of the league’s coaches – including Frost, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Penn State’s James Franklin and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh – held video news conferences or posted messages on social media pleading that their teams should be permitted to play this fall.
The fact that the Big Ten was the first Power Five conference to decide not to play this fall wasn’t a big surprise. Warren, in his first year as the Big Ten’s new commissioner, had said on multiple occasions that the Big Ten might not play this fall. While other commissioners and officials from other leagues have shared that sentiment privately behind the scenes, Warren was out front publicly with the possibility the Big Ten might not play this fall.
In the league’s announcement of its 10-game conference schedule last week, Warren said the league was prepared to “delay or cancel competition pursuant to local and state public health orders or the recommendations of our medical experts.”
And that’s what happened Tuesday.
In the past week, officials with league members Wisconsin, Penn State and Nebraska said their respective schools could lose between $70 million and $120 million without a football season this year.
With the Big Ten and Pac-12 opting out, 53 of the 130 FBS programs – or 41 percent – won’t play football this fall.
Presidents and athletic directors of the remaining FBS leagues – ACC, American, Big 12, Conference USA, SEC and Sun Belt – all have meetings scheduled over the next several days in which more cancellations could be announced. Or perhaps there will be no movement at all.
Sources told Stadium that it would be “hypothetically hard but not impossible” for the Big 12 to play if the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other leagues cancel their fall seasons. Other sources said Conference USA schools are still planning to play this fall, even though league member ODU opted out on Monday. C-USA is “holding firm on playing in the fall,” a source said.
Also, sources told Stadium, the Sun Belt plans to follow the SEC’s lead and play this fall.
Finally, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey says the best advice he received since the coronavirus outbreak was being patient in making decisions.
“Can we play?” Sankey said. “I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day and will continue to do so … every day.”
Sankey also said medical personnel have given the SEC the green light to continue the next step in the preparation process, but not necessarily the start of the season. That decision, he has said, will come later.
The SEC is scheduled to begin its 10-game conference-only schedule on Sept. 26. At least for now, it is.