Big Ten Votes to Begin Football Season in October

The Big Ten’s council of presidents and chancellors voted for the Big Ten to play football starting Oct. 23 or 24, the conference announced on Wednesday.

The league is expected to play an eight-game schedule, culminating with the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 19, sources said. This would allow the Big Ten to be eligible for the College Football Playoff, which releases its final rankings on Dec. 20.

Earlier reports suggested that even if the league presidents voted to play, some Big Ten schools might opt out and not play. However, all 14 schools plan to play this fall, sources told Stadium on Sunday.

Then on Monday, Wisconsin chancellor Rebecca Blank told reporters the league would “move forward together” and it “isn’t going to be a school-by-school thing.”

New medical evidence and developments regarding COVID-19 were the main reasons for the league’s reversal of course from when they announced they were postponing the fall season on Aug. 11, sources said.

“If the presidents didn’t go forward with the new medical information this time, then they never would have proceeded without a vaccine,” a source said.

“Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in a press release. “Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love.”

Among the medical developments that swayed the Big Ten’s decision was rapid testing that could allow league teams to test daily for coronavirus and virtually eliminate any concerns for contact tracing, sources said.

“The Big Ten will require student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing,” the league announced via press release. “Test results must be completed and recorded prior to each practice or game. Student-athletes who test positive for the coronavirus through point of contact (POC) daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result of the POC test.”

“This whole process has just been surreal,” a league source said.

The Big Ten considered four different schedule start dates: Oct. 16-17, Oct. 23-24, Thanksgiving or late December, a source said.

The biggest reasons for an Oct. 23-24 start are that it allows the league to play in the College Football Playoff, and it potentially minimizes the number of 2021 NFL Draft-eligible players opting out of playing this fall, sources said.

The financial implications also can’t be understated, a source said. Iowa has already eliminated four sports and officials at Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State all have projected a $100 million budget deficit without a fall football season.

The return of the Big Ten will have a huge impact on the College Football Playoff, as six league teams were ranked in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 7 Penn State, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 16 Michigan, No. 19 Minnesota and No. 24 Iowa.

The Big Ten joins six other FBS leagues playing this fall (Big 12, ACC, SEC, American, Sun Belt and Conference USA). In all, 91 of the 130 FBS schools (70 percent) will now be playing this fall.

Only the Pac-12, Mountain West and Mid-American conferences have postponed their fall seasons. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said he had a “high degree of confidence” the Pac-12 would be playing in January and “it’s possible we could play sooner.”

“We’re working on it,” a Pac-12 source told Stadium. “It will be great to get it going.”

The Pac-12 had hoped to restart when the Big Ten did, but the league faces even more challenges than the Big Ten ever did. The Pac-12 has two states (California and Oregon) with six league members where they need approval from state and local health authorities to return to campus and/or begin practicing.

While the Pac-12’s Scott appears optimistic about his league playing before January, the Mountain West and MAC have no plans to play before the New Year, sources said.