Today is the day that Big Ten football players, coaches, and fans have been waiting for. The league announced a reversal of its Aug. 11 decision to postpone the season to the spring, a unanimous decision by the conference’s 14 presidents and chancellors.
The Big Ten football season will begin on Oct. 23-24, per the league’s release. Conference teams will play eight games, and there are discussions of having a ninth game, matching teams from each division against each other by division standings, leading up to the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 19. There is hope that this will allow a team like Ohio State enough time to get involved in College Football Playoff talks.
The league is adopting stringent testing models, where everyone involved in the sport will take an antigen test before every practice and game. As Ohio State’s Dr. James Borchers, who was on the league’s medical subcommittee that worked to get this restart in place, said moments ago, this should reduce the impact of significant contact tracing, as infected players are being identified rapidly. We’ve seen other college teams have dozens of players sidelined due to tracing efforts, and for good reason.
This doesn’t mean the Big Ten football season will go off without a hitch, of course. The league has outlined its protocols, and it wouldn’t take a ton for a team to get sidelined. With no bye weeks built in to the eight-week schedule, a major outbreak could throw a team into a bit of disarray.
So, the Big Ten (1) doesn't have a built-in bye week, (2) has a 21-day suspension of play for players testing positive and (3) has a shutdown threshold of 5% positivity rate on a team.
Hang on to your butts.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) September 16, 2020
Every player who tests positive for COVID-19 will be required to sit 21 days after a positive diagnosis, before he can return to play, which likely means missing at least three games. Players will also go through “comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI” and be cleared by a school cardiologist before returning to play.
The league has also laid out some pretty strict baselines for positive tests on a team, to determine when that team will be pulled from play.
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%
Teams at the Green/Green and Green/Orange levels can continue as normal. Orange/Orange and Orange/Red teams “must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention (alter practice and meeting schedule, consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition).”
At Red/Red, teams must halt practice and competition for a minimum of seven games until the numbers get back into one of those other designations. That would mean a missed game with no byes or make-up games.
We’ve also seen instances of asymptomatic COVID-19 patients continually testing positive for weeks on end. The virus affects people in a variety of different ways, which makes this all so tricky.
At the very least, the Big Ten seems to be sticking to its guns when it comes to taking COVID-19 precautions as seriously as any league out there. It is great that we have games back on the schedule, and daily rapid testing should alleviate a lot of concern. Just don’t be surprised if some teams face serious issues once we get going here.