The league’s football teams had been set to take part in some of the most highly anticipated non conference games of the 2020 season.
The Big Ten Conference’s fall sports teams will play only within the league, an idea that will influence football, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball — assuming public health officials advise playing at all amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In an interview on Thursday, Kevin Warren, the Big Ten commissioner, said the decision would give the league the greatest strength and enable them to “make quick decisions in real time based on the most current medical advice.”
But Warren, who became commissioner in January, stopped short of promising that even the conference’s latest plan would be permanent and emphasized that he and other officials were “leaning on our medical experts.”
“We’re in a perpetual state of fluidity right now in dealing with all of these issues,” Warren said. “We’re taking it one step at a time, and we’re also prepared not to play the season if circumstances dictate.”
Big Ten officials began to coalesce around the strategy over the past month, and although Warren declined to speculate about how other influential Power Five leagues, like the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences, would respond to the decision, he said he expected to brief other college sports leaders on Friday.
“This announcement represents a step — a very important step — that will help provide consistency, clarity and some control over the situation,” said Sandy Barbour, the athletic director at Penn State, who added that she was “optimistic about our ability to play sports this fall and in the 2020-21 academic year.”
The decision by the Big Ten, one of the so-called Power Five conferences, will reverberate throughout football. The league’s teams were scheduled to play some of the most anticipated nonconference games of the season, including Ohio State at Oregon on Sept. 12, and Michigan at Washington on Sept. 5. The move will prompt other conferences to rethink their schedules and consider their approaches to a season that executives have increasingly acknowledged will be like none other in the sport’s history.
Last month, the Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner, John Swofford, said if Power Five schools specifically played conference games, the A.C.C. would aid Notre Dame, which is not in a conference for football, with participating in the league’s games. The A.C.C. also declared on Thursday that it would delay all of its Olympic sports competitions until at least Sept. 1.
The Big Ten’s decision will place greater financial pressure on its athletic departments, which were cutting budgets and trimming salaries even before Thursday’s announcement. Late last month, for example, Iowa said it would reduce its athletics budget by about $15 million. But the university said then that it was sketching out its budget assuming that the Hawkeyes would play full football and basketball seasons with spectators in attendance, and it warned that “any interruptions or reductions in these seasons would lead to more spectacular cuts.”
Still, Gary Barta, the athletic director at Iowa, said on Thursday that the university fully supported the conference’s decision.
“In as much as alot uncertainties still exist, today’s decision will provide the greatest amount of flexibility as we progress,” he said in a statement.
All ongoing summer sports activities would remain voluntary, the conference said. Athletes who opt out of the upcoming season because of coronavirus issues will still receive their scholarships for the year.
“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,” the Big Ten said, “we are also eager not to play in order to make sure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the situation so dictate.”
The conference’s decision followed a lot of collegiate athletic cuts made as schools faced budget concerns heightened by the pandemic. Dartmouth dropped five teams on Thursday, and Stanford cut 11 sports the day before.