Big Ten college football is coming back. After indefinitely postponing the fall football season back in August because of health concerns related to the COVID-19 crisis, the conference announced Wednesday that the season will being the weekend of October 24.
As for other fall sports and winter sports that begin in the fall, including basketball, the Big Ten said it will announce more information “shortly.” But for other sports to compete, the conference noted they will have to implement the same testing protocols as well.
So for now, here’s a summary of what we know about the Big Ten’s decision to start the football season in October.
How did the Big Ten come to this point?
In its announcement, the conference said this was a unanimous decision made by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C).
It also explained its decision to play football this fall was based on information shared by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force, self-described as a group working “to ensure a collaborative and transparent process.” The conference has been criticized by seemingly everyone, from coaches to players’ parents to fans, for its lack of transparency as it relates to decisions about playing or not during the coronavirus pandemic.
Will Big Ten teams be eligible for the College Football Playoff now?
Most likely, yes, despite the shortened season. Other conferences have had to play with their schedules and have multiple options for conference championship games. But as long as the Big Ten squeezes its title game in before December 20 — when the College Football Playoff committee plans to announce its four teams — then it shouldn’t be a problem.
However, the Big Ten still needs the playoff’s management committee’s approval. As ESPN explained:
All 10 of the FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick would determine whether the Big Ten can rejoin the CFP. ACC commissioner John Swofford, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby will carry the most weight in the room, as they will have navigated their leagues through longer schedules.
What does the Big Ten’s schedule look like now?
That’s unclear at this point, but it’s fair to assume the Big Ten will release a totally redesigned schedule soon. However, as USA TODAY Sports‘ Dan Wolken reported, the conference plans on having an eight-game season, which leaves zero wiggle room for byes or postponements leading up to a December 19 conference title game.
So what’s the plan for keeping people safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19?
It’s all about testing with fast results, which is set to begin September 30.
The announcement said the 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.”
That daily antigen testing will be required for anyone who’s on the field for practices and games, which obviously includes players, coaches and trainers. And the results from those daily tests must be in before each practice or game.
As we’ve seen, contact tracing can take out chunks of teams’ rosters, so the idea seems to be that if they can regularly and rapidly identify anyone who might be positive for COVID-19, then they can isolate that person before they interact with too many people.
What happens if a Big Ten player tests positive for the coronavirus?
If the antigen test comes back with a positive COVID-19 result, players will then be required to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the results. If the results remain positive, the earliest a player can return to competition is 21 days following the diagnosis.
How are test results and data going to be handled?
Each Big Ten school will have a Chief Infection Officer who will help oversee the collection and reporting of testing data for the conference. The Big Ten will then use that data to make decisions about teams continuing to practice or compete, and those decisions are based on seven-day averages of teams’ positivity rates and the population positivity rate.
For example, if a team’s positivity rate is not higher than 2 percent and the population’s rate is no higher than 7.5 percent, regular practice and competition can continue.
If a team’s positivity rate passes 5 percent while the population rate is higher than 7.5 percent, practice and competition will be paused for at least seven days and until the numbers improve. If a team’s and the population’s rates fall somewhere in the middle, they’ll have to enhance their protocols.
What about concerns regarding COVID-19 leading to heart issues?
While the longterm effects of having the novel coronavirus remain largely unknown, a rare heart condition called myocarditis has been associated with the virus, as ESPN reported back in August.
Because of this, the Big Ten also said its schools will create a cardiac registry to analyze the effects of positive COVID-19 diagnoses and try to address some of the unknowns related to subsequent heart conditions. More from the conference’s announcement:
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 cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes.