Big Ten reverses course, announces October return for football

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 9:26 AM EDT
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CHICAGO (WTVG) - The Big Ten announced Wednesday that its football season will start the weekend of October 23. The conference had earlier decided to postpone its season indefinitely.

The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors unanimously voted to resume the college football season with significant medical protocols, including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening, “and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition.”

Everyone associated with the football programs -- student-athletes, coaches, trainers, and other individuals on the field for practices and games -- must undergo daily antigen testing, beginning Sept. 30. Those results must be completed and recorded prior to each practice and game.

“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, Head Team Physician, The Ohio State University and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee.

“The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities.”

The schools will have a Chief Infection Officers to oversee the collection and reporting of data. Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition.

If a student-athlete tests positive for COVID-19, the earliest they can return to game competition is three weeks.

“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students. The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference,” said Morton Schapiro, Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University President, and Chair of the Return to Competition Task Force Steering Committee. “We appreciate the conference’s dedication to developing the necessary safety procedures for our students and the communities that embrace them.”

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who earlier proposed The Ohio State University could file a lawsuit against the Big Ten for the postponed season, praised the decision to resume play.

“The initial decision warranted further review – everyone wants the kids to be safe moving forward – but with comprehensive testing and medical protocols in place, the return to fall sports is a winning move," Yost said. “While it took longer than I wanted, the decision to allow sports again at The Ohio State University and other member universities is the correct one. This was always about fairness and being equitable in the agreement between the conference and the universities. Going forward it’s my hope that the future of the Big Ten is always fought on the field and not in the courtroom.”

Football is just the beginning of a return to competition for Big Ten schools. Eventually, all sports will require testing protocol before they can resume activities. The conference said updates regarding other fall sports and winter sports will be announcing the near future.

“Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes. Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “We are incredibly grateful for the collaborative work that our Return to Competition Task Force have accomplished to ensure the health, safety and wellness of student-athletes, coaches and administrators.”

The conference will use the data collected to make decisions regarding practice and competition, determined by a team positivity rate and population positivity rate, based on a seven-day rolling average.

Team positivity rate (number of positive tests divided by total number of tests administered):

• Green 0-2%

• Orange 2-5%

• Red >5%

Population positivity rate (number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk):

• Green 0-3.5%

• Orange 3.5-7.5%

• Red >7.5%

Decisions to alter or halt practice and competition will be based on the following scenarios:

• Green/Green and Green/Orange: Team continues with normal practice and competition.

• Orange/Orange and Orange/Red: Team must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention (alter practice and meeting schedule, consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition).

• Red/Red: Team must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved.

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