The Big Ten conference voted Tuesday to cancel its 2020-2021 fall sports season over COVID-19 concerns.
The Big Ten presidents voted 12-2 to not play this fall, according to longtime sports personality Dan Patrick, who first reported the news on Monday. Patrick said that the two schools in the league that voted to play football this fall were the University of Nebraska and the University of Iowa. The Detroit Free Press separately confirmed reports of the canceled season before the conference released its own statement.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in the statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
In addition to football, the fall sports included in the cancelation are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball.
The conferences included in the National Collegiate Athletic Association are the Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Southeastern Conference (SEC). The leagues are often collectively referred to as the “Power Five.”
“The ACC and the Big 12 are on the fence,” Patrick said on his show. “The SEC is trying to get a delay to have teams join them. The SEC is looking for exclusive TV contracts.”
The decision comes about a week after the Big Ten released an updated 10-game conference-only schedule for this year, and just a few days after the conference opened fall camp. The conference released a statement on Saturday saying that “all institutions will remain in the first two days of the acclimatization period in football” throughout preseason practice.
“Each new phase of activity provides new intelligence and experience and allows us to evaluate the implementation of our Conference and institutional medical protocols in real-time,” the statement read. “In order to make the right health and safety decisions for our student-athletes, we believe it is best to continue in the appropriate phase of activity referenced above while we digest and share information from each campus to ensure we are moving forward cautiously.”
On Sunday evening, college football players started the viral hashtag #WeWantToPlay, pushing back against not having a fall football season. A coalition of players from all five conferences shared a flyer on social media listing demands they require in order to play ― including universal health and safety protocols to protect athletes from COVID-19, and the goal to “ultimately create a college football players’ association.”
“Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision,” the flyer read, according to a tweet by Clemson University football player Trevor Lawrence. “Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to lay the season or not.”
President Donald Trump joined in on the hashtag, tweeting in response to Lawrence that the “student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled.”
Student-athletes across the country are already opting out of playing because of worries about how coronavirus can impact their health. The Free Press reported that four Michigan State University players said they refused to participate in the 2020 season, and Indiana University offensive lineman Brady Feeney urged schools and players “to listen to our medical experts.”
“Covid-19 is serious,” tweeted Feeney, who is experiencing COVID-19-related heart issues. “I never thought that I would have serious health complications from this virus, but look at what happened.”
“We know how significant the student-athlete experience can be in shaping the future of the talented young women and men who compete in the Big Ten Conference. Although that knowledge made this a painstaking decision, it did not make it difficult,” Warren said in the statement. “While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a former university president, drafted a letter he plans to send to Big Ten presidents regarding the decision. A copy of the letter obtained by Sports Illustrated states that the conference should not cancel the college football season because the “structure and discipline” of athletic programs are likely safer than the lived experience of those students without a season.
“Canceling the fall season would mean closing down socially-distanced, structured programs for these athletes,” Sasse wrote, according to the copy. “Young men will be pushed away from universities that are uniquely positioned to provide them with testing and health care.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Monday that the ACC and SEC should not join the Big Ten in canceling the season, but rather recruit those leagues’ student-athletes. Those conferences include the University of Florida and Florida State University.
“Not only should they make the best decision for themselves and not let the Big Ten lead them into canceling sports, what they should do is they sould reach out to all the Big Ten athletes and say, ‘Hey, we’re playing,’” DeSantis told Outkick’s Clay Travis on Fox Sports Radio. “I mean, at the end of the day, I think you’re going to see if there’s parts of the country that won’t allow the opportunity in other parts. You’re already seeing you have some high school athletes that are moving from California to Georgia and stuff. I think you’ll see that happen.”
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