Non-conference games? Not happening for Big Ten teams competing in fall sports this year. The Big Ten announced today that it will be playing games only against other Big Ten member institutions in all fall sports.
We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority.
To that end, the Big Ten Conference announced today that if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports. Details for these sports will be released at a later date, while decisions on sports not listed above will continue to be evaluated. By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.
This decision was made following many thoughtful conversations over several months between the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors, Directors of Athletics, Conference Office staff, and medical experts including the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.
In addition, the Conference announced that summer athletic activities will continue to be voluntary in all sports currently permitted to engage in such activities. Furthermore, Big Ten student-athletes who choose not to participate in intercollegiate athletics at any time during the summer and/or the 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.
While Big Ten member institutions continue to rely on the most up-to-date medical information to establish the best protocols for voluntary workouts on their campuses, in compliance with local and state regulations, the Conference is working with the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee to finalize Conference-wide protocols.
As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate.
Iowa added its own statement via Gary Barta as well:
"The B1G Conference announced today that if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports."— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) July 9, 2020
Full @bigten release: https://t.co/K6IDl5sho2 pic.twitter.com/0DS4QiXSMj
The most important line in the Big Ten's statement might be this one -- To that end, the Big Ten Conference announced today that if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports. That "if" does quite a bit of heavy lifting, but acknowledges the reality that playing any games is very much up in the air right now. But if teams are able to play football games this fall, Big Ten teams will only be doing so against one another.
For Iowa, this means scheduled games against UNI, Iowa State, and Northern Illinois won't be happening. The most notable of those games from a fan interest standpoint is certainly the Iowa State game (which will now not be played for the first time since 1976), although from a financial standpoint, the loss of games against Iowa (and the accompanying paycheck) could be devastating for institutions like UNI and Northern Illinois. The absence of a CyHawk game in 2020 does mean that this will remain the last significant play in a CyHawk game, though:
Based on reports, it sounds like this will be the last significant play in a CyHawk game until 2021 at least. Let's watch it again (and again and again and...) pic.twitter.com/nOCqIdlDSI— RossWB (@RossWB) July 9, 2020
So that's nice.
What exactly a Big Ten-only football schedule might look like is still to be determined. Some rumors have suggested that it could be 10 games long, although whether that would be the currently planned 9-game Big Ten schedule for 2020 plus one additional game is unclear. This note from ESPN's Adam Rittenberg suggests that the schedules could be further tweaked from the current ones, though:
Also hearing per sources thst the B1Gs league-only schedules will be frontloaded with division games, as those are the most important to play before potential interruptions. https://t.co/yZzJmPJMUr— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) July 9, 2020
Iowa's current schedule has them starting league play against Minnesota on September 18, before playing three consecutive conference games against Big Ten East opponents (hosting Michigan State on 10/3 before heading to Ohio State and Penn State on 10/10 and 10/17, respectively), and then wrapping up the season with five straight games against Big Ten West opponents. That obviously isn't a schedule front-loaded with division opponents -- just the opposite, in fact. So if Rittenberg's note is correct, Iowa's schedule will need to be significantly altered.
While football is the 800 lb. gorilla of fall college sports (and college sports as a whole), this decision applies to all fall sports, as the release notes. That means Iowa teams in men's and women's cross country, field hockey, women's soccer, and women's volleyball (Iowa doesn't compete in men's soccer in the Big Ten) will also be playing league-only opponents this fall. A decision about any scheduling impact on other sports (such as winter sports like men's and women's basketball or wrestling) will be made at a later date. That said, considering those sports play primarily non-conference opponents in November and December, in seasons that overlap with fall sports, it does suggest that non-conference games in those sports could be in jeopardy as well.
We'll have more information about Iowa's revised 2020 football schedule as and when it becomes available. In the meantime, let's hope that conditions improve to enable football games to be played at all this fall.