Amid continued coronavirus uncertainty, the Big Ten dropped a bombshell Thursday, announcing the league will only schedule games against conference opponents this fall. In doing so, the Big Ten becomes the first of the Power Five leagues to adopt a conference-only model for fall sports. The ACC had previously announced a delay to Olympic sports (soccer, volleyball, cross-country and field hockey) while the Ivy League plans to curtail its athletic programs until at least January 1.
Choosing to eschew its non-conference slate is an unprecedented measure by the Big Ten, but it’s probably what is needed right now. We’ve seen professional leagues take drastic steps to reduce travel, hoping to limit players’ exposure to the virus (the NBA and NHL are both resuming in restrictive “bubble” environments), and it seems colleges are beginning to follow suit.
Thursday’s landmark announcement comes as a major blow to college football—the NCAA’s biggest moneymaker by far—effectively wiping out marquee games featuring Ohio State and Oregon, Wisconsin versus Notre Dame and Penn State against Virginia Tech, among other highly-anticipated matchups.
With the college sports season fast approaching, the NCAA finds itself in a race against the clock. Will football and other sports delay their seasons or will other conferences follow the Big Ten’s lead in adopting abbreviated, conference-only schedules in a last-ditch effort to keep the fall sports season alive? With COVID-19 not showing any signs of slowing down (in fact, its prevalence has increased in many areas of the country), the upcoming fall sports season—and the reopening of colleges in general—remains very much in flux.