The Big Ten conference announced that its fall sports teams will only play conference opponents this upcoming season due to COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon.
The conference’s decision comes amid rising coronavirus cases nationwide and a day after the Ivy League suspended all fall sports. Most Division I universities have student-athletes back on campus in some capacity, but the Big Ten is the first Power Five conference to announce this measure in an attempt to keep its teams geographically contained.
“We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority,” the statement said.
Per the statement, limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions will give the conference flexibility to adjust operations based on, “the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”
The Big Ten’s decision impacts men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.
If college football can be played this fall, per ESPN, there is overwhelming support amongst Big Ten schools for a 10-game, conference-only regular season. In the same article, an assistant coach at a Big Ten football program told the outlet that his head coach instructed him to stop scouting non-conference opponents and instead focus on conference foes.
It is yet to be seen exactly how this decision will impact scheduling, as football is the only Big Ten fall sport with a set schedule. What is known is that Nebraska’s Sept. 12 game against Central Michigan, Sept. 19 game against South Dakota State and Sept. 26 game against Cincinnati will no longer be played.
The conference said that scheduling details will be released at a later date, while decisions on whether or not fall sports will be played will continue to be evaluated.
“As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate,” the statement said.
In the interim, the Big Ten said that voluntary summer workouts are allowed to continue on its member campuses. Additionally, Big Ten athletes who choose not to participate in athletics during the 2020-21 season due to coronavirus concerns will continue to have their scholarship honored by their school.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green, University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter and Husker Athletic Director Bill Moos expressed their pleasure with the Big Ten's decision in a Thursday afternoon statement.
"The most important thing is the safety of our student-athletes and that of our Athletics staff and coaches, and we appreciate the thoughtful approach taken by the Big Ten," the statement said. "We are fortunate that the COVID-19 pandemic has not been as widespread in Nebraska and look forward to safely hosting Big Ten competitions."