The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences canceled their fall college football seasons Tuesday and will attempt to play in the spring instead — becoming the first two major conferences to pull the plug on fall football due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The postponements came as players, coaches and politicians urged colleges to forge ahead despite the difficulties posed by COVID-19. But the university officials involved in the decision-making process decided Tuesday the risks were too great.
Big Ten presidents and chancellors officially voted to have its 14 members — including the University of Maryland — delay the season, along with all other fall sports. A few hours later, the Pac-12 also canceled all sports through the end of the year.
The moves highlight the hurdles schools face in trying to resume play amid a pandemic as cases spike across the country — though the other three Power 5 conferences, the SEC Big 12 and the ACC seem more inclined to try. The ACC issued a statement later in the day indicating that, for now, football is still on as conference schools “continue to follow our process that has been in place for months.”
But in his statement, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said his conference members felt there were just too many variables surrounding teams and games to proceed safely.
“As time progressed … it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
Conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-12 had hoped to play — even introducing conference-only schedules for a shortened season last week — but in recent days, it became apparent that member schools were having second thoughts.
The NCAA, the governing body that oversees college athletics, has not released a comprehensive plan for games and practices to happen, leaving decisions up to individual schools.
As discussions were taking place, players launched “#WeWantToPlay,” an online campaign that advocated for the sport to happen in the fall under safe guidelines. The movement saw support from prominent quarterbacks like Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
Big Ten coaches like Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Nebraska’s Scott Frost also pushed for football to be held, arguing it could be safely played with proper health and safety protocols.
On Monday, a slew of politicians also became involved — with Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, penning a letter to Big Ten presidents and chancellors that argued students would be at a greater risk of the virus without fall football. President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, too, tweeted their support for football.
Mr. Trump criticized the Big Ten and Pac-12 announcements, saying student-athletes deserve a shot to fulfill their dreams on the field. He’s pointed to the relative health of young athletes and the fact the disease tends to kill older people or those with underlying conditions.
As of Tuesday, there were more than 5 million reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and more than 164,000 deaths — though the mortality rate for young people is dramatically lower than for older groups.
Under-25 victims accounted for less than 1,000 of the 103,339 U.S. deaths recorded through June 17, according to the American Council on Science and Health.
Tuesday’s postponements left many pushing for some semblance of a football season disappointed and frustrated.
Fields tweeted “smh,” which stands for “shaking my head.”
In a statement, Frost said Nebraska would still “evaluate the situation as it emerges,” leaving the door open for the university to play fall football outside the conference — something he first referenced during a Monday press conference.
Maryland athletic director Damon Evans called the news “disappointing,” but said it was made in the best interests of its student-athletes.
“I have every confidence they will remain resilient and strong in these trying times,” Evans said in a statement. “We will continue to support every one of them and will work diligently with university leadership, local and state officials, and the conference to make every effort to provide competitive opportunities for our student-athletes.”
As of now, 53 of the 130 FBS teams will not be participating in fall college football. Besides the Big Ten and Pac-12, independents like UConn and UMass and smaller conferences like the Mid-American and Mountain West conferences have made decisions to postpone play.
In attempting to restart in the spring, the sport could see an exodus of talented players due to the NFL draft, a three-day event scheduled to begin April 29, 2021.
Prominent players such as Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley and Penn State’s Micah Parsons had already withdrawn over COVID-19-related concerns.
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