Ohio State players celebrate the team's 34-21 win over Wisconsin in the 2019 Big Ten championship game. The Big Ten won't play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports' power conferences to yield to the pandemic. (AJ Mast/The Associated Press)

Football

Big Ten, Pac-12 cancel football, fall sports as all eyes focus on Big 12, ACC, SEC

National media framed it as a swing issue. If the Big 12 voted to play this fall, then the ACC and SEC would probably play, too.

Posted August 11th, 2020

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Ohio State and Michigan got benched Tuesday by the Big Ten. So did USC, UCLA and the rest of the Pac-12.

Two Power Five conferences covering the Midwest and West Coast portions of the United States, with fans scattered literally all over the world, both pulled the plug on fall sports competitions because of COVID-19 during a historic and sad Tuesday. And they’re hoping the Big 12, ACC and SEC follow suit.

School presidents in the Big Ten and Pac-12 both met separately on Tuesday and came to independent conclusions. There was wide speculation both would move in conjunction to cancel or postpone the football season, along with volleyball, soccer and cross country.

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At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Big 12 Board of Directors were scheduled to start their own meeting with a team of medical professionals and decide whether the league should play or not. Texas officials have been clear about their intent; the Longhorns want to play. But it requires a full board vote.

National media outlets framed it as something of a swing issue. If the Big 12 voted to play this fall, then the ACC and SEC would probably play, too. If the Big 12 was out, then college football would probably be canceled for 2020 in its entirety.

But there was no question where the Big Ten and Pac-12 stood on a somber day brought about by the coronavirus. Both leagues said they “hoped” to play in the spring, but there are incredible challenges associated with that decision as well.

Will the virus still be here? Will there be a vaccine? Will these schools force athletes to play two seasons in one calendar year?

“The health, the safety, the wellness, both physical and mental of our student-athletes was going to be at the top of our list,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said on Big Ten Network.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said multiple factors led to the league’s decision to cancel athletics for the fall. [Charles Rex Arbogast/The Associated Press]
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he would have preferred to push the season back to Sept. 26 or maybe even Oct. 1. “But the science came to us so fast. So we just had to move,” Smith said.

The league did not release the science data it was looking at, other than cite COVID spread throughout the league’s geographic footprint.

Warren danced around a question about whether the league’s vote was unanimous. Nebraska officials made it clear they wanted to play. The school released a statement Tuesday saying it will continue to consult with medical experts and evaluate the situation.

“We hope it may be possible for our student athletes to have the opportunity to compete,” Nebraska’s statement said.

The Pac-12 vote was unanimous, commissioner Larry Scott said. Not only where the fall sports canceled, the league said “all” competition was suspended until 2021. As far as the Pac-12 is concerned, non-conference basketball games are now off the table.

“We cannot bubble our student athletes like pro sports can,” Scott said on a Zoom call with reporters. “Enough questions have been raised that we didn’t feel comfortable moving forward.”

The league is now petitioning the NCAA to preserve the athlete’s eligibility, although it’s unclear what will happen if there’s not a complete shutdown by all conferences.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott announced Tuesday the league would suspended all sports competitions the rest of the calendar year. [D. Ross Cameron/The Associated Press]
If the Big 12, ACC and SEC continue to play, then coaches from those teams will gladly accept anyone’s phone call from those wishing to transfer.

No school can stop an athlete from putting his or her name into the NCAA transfer portal. Once that happens, the athlete is free to be contacted by other schools. However, the athlete’s current school can pull that person’s scholarship.

Asked why players can’t just sign a liability waiver, Arizona State AD Ray Anderson said, “We’re not driven by lawyers saying we’ll relieve you of liability. That’s not what floats the boat in this conference.”

As for the other leagues, it’s clear they want to play. Whether university presidents, normally a risk averse group, allow that to happen is uncertain.

“I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. He said the league remains comfortable with the “thoughtful and deliberate approach” the SEC is taking.

Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork told the American-Statesman on Tuesday the SEC continued to preach patience. Asked if he believes the SEC will play this season, Bjork was emphatic. “I believe we will.

“I believe there’s a pathway forward that we’ve outlined,” Bjork said. “Is it going to be bumpy and rocky over the next few weeks, it probably will be. But we have a plan. We need to stick to it. We’re doing walk-throughs right now.”

A&M is currently working with local labs for its COVID-19 testing. The SEC is currently negotiating a contract with a third party for league-wide testing for when the season begins, Bjork said. The NCAA has established that any athlete must be tested within 72 hours before competition to be safe to play.

Over in the ACC, the message was similar. Florida State officials held a press conference that left no doubt about their stance. Coaches spoke up, too.

“I feel like our league is a league that wants to play and it’s important that message is out there,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown told reporters after Tuesday’s practice.

The way things were unfolding, it might be up to the Big 12 whether we have football at all or not.

“At the end of the day, these are independent conferences with independent boards,” Scott said about the Pac-12’s vote. “We feel good about our decision.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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