Big Ten football is coming this fall. Over a month after 11 league presidents and chancellors voted to push off a potential season to the spring, and after significant outside pressure and improvements in medical protocols to handle COVID-19, the league has reversed its decision.
The news broke this morning, and the Big Ten quickly confirmed the announcement: Big Ten football will return on Oct. 23-24, and will play an eight conference-only schedule. In August, 11 of 14 presidents voted to push the season, with Iowa, Nebraska, and Ohio State being the holdouts. After the recent discussions about medical options to make a return to play more safe, the Big Ten reportedly had a unanimous vote to return to play.
“The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) adopted significant medical protocols including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition,” the league release says. “The COP/C voted unanimously to resume the football season starting the weekend of October 23-24, 2020. The decision was based on information presented by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force, a working group that was established by the COP/C and Commissioner Kevin Warren to ensure a collaborative and transparent process.”
Antigen tests will be done before every practice and game, according to the release. Players who test positive will then be put through point of contact testing, with the more sensitive PCR test performed to confirm the result. The league hopes this will limit any outbreaks and allow for a season to go off without a hitch.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) adopted significant medical protocols and has voted unanimously to resume the football season starting the weekend of October 23-24, 2020: https://t.co/b5yHShGb1D
— Big Ten Conference (@bigten) September 16, 2020
The Big Ten also believes the data it collects from this football season can impact the larger communities. Ohio State head team physician Dr. Jim Borchers, who worked on the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee, which was instrumental in getting to where we are today, praised the process the league went through.
“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” said Dr. Borchers said in the league announcement. “The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities.”
One of the major questions that leagues have struggled to answer, is at what level of outbreak does a team or league get fully removed from competition. The Big Ten lays out its new protocol as well:
The Big Ten Conference will use data provided by each Chief Infection Officer (CInO) to make decisions about the continuation of practice and competition, as determined by team positivity rate and population positivity rate, based on a seven-day rolling average:
Team positivity rate (number of positive tests divided by total number of tests administered):
- Green 0-2%
- Orange 2-5%
- Red >5%
Population positivity rate (number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk):
- Green 0-3.5%
- Orange 3.5-7.5%
- Red >7.5%
Decisions to alter or halt practice and competition will be based on the following scenarios:
- Green/Green and Green/Orange: Team continues with normal practice and competition.
- Orange/Orange and Orange/Red: Team must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention (alter practice and meeting schedule, consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition).
- Red/Red: Team must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved.
The daily testing will begin by September 30, 2020.
The Big Ten football announcement does not directly address some of the other health concerns that reportedly contributed to the original decision, like the specific presence of the heart condition myocarditis in athletes who have dealt with COVID-19, though it will put players through “comprehensive cardiac testing” and require a cardiologist to clear a player to return to participation.
In any event, it will be good to have Big Ten football next month, and for schools like Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin to have a chance to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.