After a tumultuous six weeks, football is back in the Big Ten.
The Big Ten conference announced Wednesday it will return to competition on Oct. 23-24 with stringent medical protocols, which include rapid daily testing and extensive cardiac screening.
A requirement will include student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing. 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.
In addition, all COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, echocardiogram and a cardiac MRI. Following the cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.
Daily testing will begin Sept. 30.
Eventually, all Big Ten sports will require testing protocols before they can resume competition. Updates regarding fall sports other than football, as well as winter sports that begin in the fall including men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and wrestling, will be announced shortly, Big Ten officials said.
There was no immediate word on the length of the schedule. Multiple outlets are reporting eight to nine games.
Wednesday’s announcement comes nearly exactly one month to the day the Big Ten became the first Power Five conference to postpone its fall sports season. On Aug. 11, citing health concerns and the uncertainty of long-term health effects presented by the coronavirus, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren on behalf of the league’s 14 presidents and chancellors made the announcement.
The aftermath of the Big Ten’s decision quickly became consequential. Conference players and coaches, players’ parents and fans voiced their collective disapproval on social media.
Just days before the league’s decision to postpone the fall sports season, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost suggested his team might look elsewhere to play this fall if the football season was shelved.
“We want to play no matter who it is or where it is,” Frost said just days before the league’s decision to postpone the fall sports season. “So, we’ll see how all those chips fall. We certainly hope it’s in the Big Ten. If it isn’t, I think we’re prepared to look for other options.”
In the days following the Big Ten’s decision, momentum was built to pressure Warren and league presidents to provide transparency of the 11-3 vote in favor of postponement. It was later learned leadership from Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa dissented.
“It is unclear to me whether or not there was a vote about it,” Penn State vice president for intercollegiate athletics Sandy Barbour told reporters in August. “Nobody’s ever told me there was. So I just don’t know whether there actually was a vote by the chancellors and presidents.”
Randy Wade – father of Ohio State player Shaun Wade – led a protest in August front of the Big Ten offices in Rosemont, Illinois. He was joined by a couple dozen other protesters. Shaun Wade this week opted out of the season.
The Big Ten battle grew political in August when President Donald Trump tweeted he spoke with Warren with the hopes of prodding league leaders into action.
The Big Ten’s decision was met with a legal challenge as well as eight Nebraska players filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ruling, calling it “arbitrary and capricious” and claiming it would hurt their future career opportunities. Through discovery, the suit led to the Big Ten disclosing its 11-3 vote to postpone the season.
The decision had an economic impact in Big Ten college towns throughout the Midwest, which have been struggling since the start of the pandemic. The average economic impact for home football games at Indiana, according to Greater Bloomington, Ind., chamber of commerce figures, ranges from $4-6 million per game.
Meanwhile, college football in the ACC, Big 12 and Sun Belt conferences started last weekend. The SEC is set to start its season on Sept. 26.
Challenges already have arisen with teams managing the pandemic. Nine games were postponed last weekend due to COVID-19 issues involving teams, including Baylor vs. Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma State vs. Tulsa and SMU vs. TCU. This coming week, a number of games already have been postponed, including Virginia Tech vs. Virginia, Memphis vs. Houston, BYU vs. Army and Arkansas State vs. Central Arkansas.
On Tuesday, Louisiana-based newspaper, The Advocate, shared that LSU football coach Ed Orgeron told reporters, "I think most, not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it. So hopefully they won't catch it again, and hopefully, they're not out for games."
Although COVID-19 infections are declining nationally, the Midwest has emerged as a hot spot this fall, with positivity rates rising in three Big Ten states, Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio. Earlier this month, IU had 30 fraternity and sorority houses placed under quarantine after the school reported an 8.1 percent positivity rate in students living within those houses.
Wisconsin football is currently on a workout pause due to COVID-19 outbreak, while Rutgers, Indiana, Northwestern and Maryland also were forced to pause football workouts due to outbreaks within their teams.