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Big Ten football canceled for fall, will try to play in spring

USA TODAY Network staff

The Big Ten will not play football in the fall with "the possibility of competition in the spring" due to health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. the conference said Tuesday.

After a dramatic few days full of meetings among coaches, athletics directors and university presidents, the stunning decision marks a potential tipping point for the Bowl Subdivision to play a season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"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 in a statement.

“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 Big Ten's decision, which also includes the postponement of all fall sports, comes as another two Power Five leagues, the Pac-12 and Big 12, are holding meetings to weigh the question of how to play and deal with health and safety concerns caused by COVID-19. 

"For many months, we had hoped that the return of fall collegiate sports might be an opportunity to restore some sense of normalcy and provide brighter moments for our university, our city and our state," said Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank and athletics director Barry Alvarez in a co-signed statement. "Even so, today’s decision by the Big Ten to postpone the fall 2020 sports season is the correct one."

Not every Big Ten school signaled an alignment with the Big Ten's decision. In a statement attributed to the university, Nebraska said it was "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."

Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith said he was aligned with university president-elect Kristina M. Johnson "in our efforts to delay the start of the season rather than postpone" competition.

“This is an incredibly sad day for our student-athletes, who have worked so hard and been so vigilant fighting against this pandemic to get this close to their season," Smith said.

Ohio State said that all athletes will remain on scholarship and remain in the same COVID-19 testing, quarantine and isolation protocols. Athletes will still have access to team facilities and nutrition areas.   

Other fall sports included in the Big Ten's decision are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball. The conference said it would continue evaluating its options for these sports, as well as sports conducted in the winter and spring.

One significant concern for the Big Ten and other conferences was the potential long-term health issues that could arise among student-athletes who may otherwise dodge the primary symptoms of the coronavirus — including myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can impact the heart's ability to pump blood normally.

During an appearance on the Big Ten Network, Warren said that myocarditis was "not the primary reason" behind the league's decision but one of a "litany of reasons."

As the season seemed on the brink of cancellation for much of Monday, several Big Ten coaches shared statements or made public comments arguing to proceed as originally planned or delay the league’s decision.

At least two Big Ten teams, Ohio State and Penn State, were considered to be among the nation's best, with several others ranked in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll. The Buckeyes were ranked second behind Clemson. Penn State came in at No. 7, Wisconsin at No. 11, Michigan at No. 15, Minnesota at No. 18 and Iowa at No. 23.

The four remaining Power Five conferences have yet to announce plans for the coming season. The Pac-12 has long been in lockstep with the Big Ten. Officials in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC have pointed to the advice of medical experts in dictating whether to proceed as planned in September.