On Tuesday afternoon, the first major college sports conference in the country announced it was postponing fall sports.
The Big Ten announced that it was postponing all fall sports seasons until the spring, confirming a poorly-kept secret from the weekend's member presidents' meeting.
Dan Patrick announced on Monday to lead his program the Big Ten had voted 12-2 to delay fall sports to the spring. After a news cycle of denials that a vote had taken place, Jeff Potrykus of the Journal-Sentinel and JSOnline confirmed the Big Ten was out this fall.
You can read the full releases from the Big Ten and the Wisconsin Badgers, who noted no decisions have been made about winter sports in their own release while acknowledging serious financial impacts for both the University of Wisconsin and businesses that support the Badgers.
The Big Ten Conference announced the postponement of the 2020-21 fall sports season, including all regular-season contests and Big Ten Championships and Tournaments, due to ongoing health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In making its decision, which was based on multiple factors, the Big Ten Conference relied on the medical advice and counsel of the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.
“Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff,” said Morton Schapiro, Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University President.
“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,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “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.
“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. 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. Everyone associated with the Big Ten Conference and its member institutions is committed to getting everyone back to competition as soon as it is safe to do so.”
The fall sports included in this announcement are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball. The Big Ten Conference will continue to evaluate a number of options regarding these sports, including the possibility of competition in the spring. Decisions regarding winter and spring sports will also continue to be evaluated.
The Big Ten Conference is proud of its 14 world-class research institutions and has leveraged their resources and expertise to address this pandemic over the past five months. The Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee have engaged in extensive research and sharing of materials and conversations with federal, state and local government agencies, and professional and international sports organizations in order to track and better understand the daily updates surrounding this pandemic. Their advice and counsel have been invaluable as they have worked tirelessly over the past several months in their efforts to create and maintain a safe environment for athletics.
The Big Ten Conference will continue to work with medical experts and governmental authorities to gather additional information, evaluate emerging data and technologies, and monitor developments regarding the pandemic to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes.
As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally. For many students and staff, it has brought anxiety and stress and we are all looking forward to a time when things begin to look and feel more “normal.”
For many months, we had hoped that the return of fall collegiate sports might be an opportunity to restore some sense of normalcy and provide brighter moments for our university, our city and our state. Even so, today’s decision by the Big Ten to postpone the fall 2020 sports season is the correct one.
It was made with the input of medical professionals and with the best interests of student-athletes, fans and staff at its core. Athletic Department staff have worked incredibly hard to create as safe an environment as possible for our teams to practice and prepare for the season, but there is simply too much unknown risk for us to proceed with the confidence we need to launch our sports seasons. At the end of the day, the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff is our top priority. Nothing is more important.
As the Big Ten statement indicates, sports are simply different from other campus activities. There is no way to preserve physical distancing during competition, and masking can make competition very difficult. There are also a variety of unknowns about the interaction of COVID-19 with extreme physical exertion. As a result, playing the fall season would pose risks that we think are not acceptable for our student-athletes and our athletic staff.
This is a difficult moment for all of us – student-athletes, coaches, staff, students, fans and local communities – whose lives are intertwined with Badger Athletics in a variety of ways.
We are all going to miss the excitement of Saturdays at Camp Randall, cheering the volleyball team in the Field House as it was headed toward another run for a National Championship, the excellence of our cross country runners and the memorable experiences that come with men’s and women’s soccer.
We are particularly heartbroken for the student-athletes and coaches who put so much time and effort into preparing for competition.
We also recognize that this decision will have a major financial impact on not only our Athletic Department, but the many businesses and members of our community who rely on Badger events to support their livelihoods. These financial issues within Athletics are compounded by the deep financial challenges facing all of campus at this moment.
Today’s decision affects fall sports only, and we are still hopeful that we can find a path forward so that their seasons can be played in spring 2021. There are many obstacles to overcome for this to happen, but we will begin planning in case that is possible. At this point, no decisions have been made regarding winter sports.
Despite this postponement, we will continue to provide support and care for our student-athletes. That is central to our Athletic Department mission, and includes continuing their scholarships, academic advising and support, health insurance, and meals. This also includes the safe and successful opening of the fall semester on our campus, so that all students have an opportunity to move forward in their education.
We recognize how disappointing this news is to our Badger community. We appreciate the continued support and understanding of all those associated with Badger Athletics and the fans who cheer them on and look forward to the day we can safely resume competition in college athletics.
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