The Big Ten and the Pac-12 have postponed the fall college football season. What happens now? The impact of those decisions will be felt across the sports landscape, starting with the other Power 5 conferences. Beyond that, could Nebraska really go rogue and play anyway this fall, as it hinted in its post-decision statement? What does this mean for the NFL draft? And what about men’s and women’s basketball, which are affected by the Pac-12’s decision to cancel all sporting events until at least Jan. 1?
Here’s what we know about those questions and more, following an unprecedented day in college sports history.
What about the rest of the Power 5 conferences?
The Big 12 will continue moving forward with the intent on playing fall football, multiple sources told ESPN on Tuesday, confirming a Yahoo Sports report.
The conference’s board of directors met for more than an hour on Tuesday to discuss the future of the season in the midst of the Big Ten and Pac-12 decisions to postpone fall sports until 2021.
Much attention was on the Big 12 meeting after the ACC and SEC publicly affirmed their intention to continue moving forward. The decision leaves three of the Power 5 conferences intent on playing for now. A revised Big 12 schedule is expected to be released soon, sources told ESPN.
The ACC and SEC both put out statements following the Big Ten and Pac-12 decisions that indicate they are staying the course for now.
“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. “I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes.
The American, widely considered as the top football conference in the Group of 5, is also closely watching the Big 12 and is likely to follow its lead, though most of the American’s member schools in a meeting on Tuesday expressed the desire to continue moving forward, sources told ESPN.
The potential for a fall season with the ACC, Big 12, SEC and the American all playing exists. — Sam Khan Jr.
What was the primary factor in the Big Ten’s decision?
Recent reports from the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee proved incredibly influential. First-year commissioner Kevin Warren spoke to both groups extensively late last week, and heard information about long-term effects of COVID-19 on Big Ten athletes and others who had been infected with the virus. Information about myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart caused by viral infection, made Warren especially concerned. ESPN reported Monday that five Big Ten athletes have been diagnosed with myocarditis. Florida State president John Thrasher on Tuesday said two Power 5 commissioners brought up their concerns about myocarditis during a call with their colleagues Sunday.
“There has been a lot of discussion about myocarditis,” Warren told BTN after the league’s announcement. “Any time you’re talking about the heart of anyone, but especially a young person, you have to be concerned. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to keep our student-athletes safe.”
Warren reiterated that the general uncertainty surrounding playing fall sports during the pandemic would compromise athletes’ health. Although the league took notice of the emotional statements from football coaches, players and others advocating for the season, Warren and most of the presidents ultimately didn’t deviate from the position they reached Sunday. — Adam Rittenberg
What about the Pac-12?
Basically the same as the Big Ten.
“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott in a statement. “Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.”
Impacted Pac-12 student-athletes will continue to have their scholarships guaranteed. The conference is also encouraging the NCAA to grant eligibility to athletes who opt out of an eventual winter or spring season or if the conference is forced to cancel sports for the entirety of the 2020-21 academic year.
The league’s medical advisory group had “concerns that many of its current recommendations cannot be achieved consistently across all universities at this point in time. Currently, the availability of frequent, FDA-approved, accurate testing with rapid turn-around time vary at each of the Pac-12 institution locations. In addition, in many locations within the Conference, community test positivity rates and number of cases per 100,000 in the surrounding community exceed levels which infectious disease and public health officials deem safe for group sports.” — Kyle Bonagura
Do both conferences plan on playing in the spring?
As of now, yes.
The Big Ten will turn its attention to whether a spring football season is possible. There’s ample skepticism in the league, as one coach texted Tuesday, “I don’t see the spring working. I am not a fan.” Coaches are concerned about how a spring season will fit into a fairly rigid schedule, how it would impact roster size and eligibility, and whether there would be increased health risks with playing two seasons in one calendar year.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz offered a different view.
“I think we can do anything we want if we do it intelligently,” he said. ” … It’s totally doable. We may be playing in some colder games, but we do that anyway in December. We have to be realistic about it. It will be a different approach than ever before.”
Weather also could be a bigger factor in the Big Ten than in other conferences attempting a spring season. Although every school has indoor practice facilities, the league likely wouldn’t want to start the season until late February or early March. A sports medicine source said the Big Ten would need at least four weeks of practices before games and couldn’t begin workouts until new information emerges that it’s safe to begin preparations.
Coaches ultimately want more concrete plans from the league than they received surrounding summer practices. Warren said a spring football season, which Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour has described as a “last resort,” will become the focus for him and his staff as they continue to consult their medical groups.
The Pac-12 has allowed for the possibility to resume competitive sports as early as January. Oregon president Michael H. Schill, in the Pac-12’s official statement, said, “We certainly hope that the Pac-12 will be able to return to competition in the New Year.” — Rittenberg
Booger McFarland discusses the Big Ten Conference’s decision to postpone the fall football season.
What happens to their players now?
The Big Ten will continue to monitor medical developments and start crafting plans for its fall sports athletes and the potential for seasons during the spring. Several coaches in the league are skeptical of a spring season, citing the logistical challenges, schedule disruptions and additional physical demands on players.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re giving up forever,” Warren told BTN. “We continually have to gather information and look forward to the future. But there’s so much uncertainty.”
Warren has made athlete health and safety, both physical and mental, a centerpiece of his mission as commissioner. He and the league now must address concerns raised by both football players and coaches that players will now be in more unsafe situations this fall because there is no season. Coaches in the conference want direction around eligibility, roster planning and other key areas.
In a statement, Ohio State said all of its student-athletes would remain on scholarship; COVID-19 testing by the athletic department and quarantine/isolation protocols would continue; access to team facilities, locker rooms, sports performance, medical/training and nutrition areas would be available; tutoring, scheduling and additional support services will remain in place; and comprehensive mental health services will be provided.
While the Pac-12 has made it clear its athletes will keep their scholarships, Scott said decisions will be made on a campus-to-campus basis for how to support them without competitive activities. “They’ll be able to continue with the 20 hours that’s permissive [each week], but I think all of our campus will have to go back and look at what’s in the best interest in supporting them,” Scott said. — Rittenberg and Bonagura
Nebraska sounds like it still wants to play this fall. Is that possible?
The Big Ten has officially postponed its football season, but the Cornhuskers don’t sound ready to accept that.
“We are very disappointed in the decision by the Big Ten Conference to postpone the fall football season, as we have been and continue to be ready to play,” a statement from the school’s chancellor, president, athletic director and head football coach read. “… We will continue to consult with medical experts and evaluate the situation as it emerges. We hope it may be possible for our student athletes to have the opportunity to compete.”
Can Nebraska actually do that? From realignment sagas to coaching hiring and firings, we know lawyers can always find a way and the money to make things happen. We also know this situation is unprecedented.
John Wolohan, a professor of sports law at Syracuse, who has written frequently on the topics of athletes’ rights, intellectual property and antitrust issues, thinks they could make a case.
“I think if Nebraska said, ‘The Big Ten is not playing this year, we’re going to play games,’ I think they could,” he said. “The media rights would probably stay with Nebraska, because there’s no Big Ten broadcasting, there’s no Big Ten football. But I think long-term, it’s a bad look for Nebraska and would cause huge friction with the league.”
“My expectation is that when you’re in a conference, you can’t be in a conference and be an independent,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said. “That’s where we are. I expect for our 14 members to go forward together.”
After speaking to other officials with knowledge of conference contracts, who did not wish to be identified because of their roles with other rights deals, here are some of the hurdles:
Media rights: As a Big Ten member, the conference holds all of the Huskers’ media rights. The league earned $781.5 million in the most recent fiscal year, according to USA Today, with Nebraska earning $55.6 million. Fox, ESPN and the league-owned Big Ten Network all share parts of the football rights.
Big Ten permission: Could the league grant a one-year free pass? Perhaps, but it seems highly unlikely. Warren is in his first year as Big Ten commissioner and the league’s unity has already been tested by several high-profile coaches — Jim Harbaugh, Ryan Day, James Franklin — speaking out this week. Frost took it a step further by pressing his case to keep playing independent of the league’s decision. The idea of the league postponing football was for the entire league to do it. Any break from that plan could be seen as a breach of contract.
Filling out a schedule: There’s a natural fit with Big 12 teams, given the Huskers’ history there, and Fox and ESPN also share rights there, so TV partners at least wouldn’t be as big of an issue. Fans would love to see a longtime rivalry return with Oklahoma, or a return to the lingering bitterness with Texas. But the Huskers left in 2010. If the Big 12 plays this fall, would these teams even be interested in extending an olive branch? For his part, commissioner Bob Bowlsby told the Austin American-Statesman on Monday that the idea of the Huskers playing Big 12 teams was “truly astonishing.”
Lost revenue: That’s a serious challenge facing athletic departments across the country. Frost said the university’s athletic department would lose between $80 million and $120 million and the city of Lincoln could lose more than $300 million if Nebraska didn’t play football. But if the Big Ten doesn’t grant Nebraska any of its TV rights, where would the revenue come from for those games? Athletic director Bill Moos has taken a wait-and-see approach to the number of fans he thinks Nebraska could allow, but it would likely be a fraction of their 90,000-seat capacity. Then, if the Big Ten plays in the spring and Nebraska isn’t part of that, they could miss out on that slice of revenue as well. It would all depend on any legal brokering, such as Notre Dame agreeing to hand over its television revenue to the ACC this year for a one-year marriage to their football schedule. There’s not a lot of time to work out the legal kinks and strike those deals. — Dave Wilson
What does this mean for the 2021 NFL draft and college all-star events?
League sources say the NFL hasn’t had formal discussions about the draft or the college all-star season, as it was waiting to see what the colleges would do. The only thing that has come up in recent owners meetings is whether to lift the prohibition of scouts on campuses in the fall, but there has been no decision. The possibility of a spring season puts several options on the table, but so far there doesn’t seem to be much support for changing the date of the draft. The collective bargaining agreement signed in March, however, stipulates that the draft must be held between Feb. 14 and June 2.
NFL teams, according to sources, have braced for the possibility of a college football season cancellation or postponement for weeks, and they are in the process of grading each college player of note based on 2019 game film, leaning on college coaches they trust for information on player backgrounds and potential sleepers.
Sources say the Senior Bowl, an event that is usually held in late January, is prepared to expand its game to accommodate more players, including opt-outs. The league typically likes to keep its schedule intact but could be nimble here if a later draft date helps showcase the event and the talent. Another possibility: Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst suggested on Monday that the NFL could have a “mini combine” in December.
Execs are torn on it all: “We are preparing for the possibility that no one plays in 2020. In the end, though, we are in the business of practicing and playing football,” an NFC exec said. “Most (college players) would benefit from putting out additional film.” — Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano
What is the current likelihood of the 2020-21 college basketball season starting on time?
Despite the Pac-12 joining the Ivy League in pushing all competition to Jan. 1, at the earliest, many power brokers and decision-makers in men’s and women’s college basketball will say they’re still planning for an on-time start to the season, and in fact, NCAA vice president Dan Gavitt said publicly earlier this month that that was still the goal. But the truth is, that’s probably unrealistic and most conferences and coaches are planning for a delayed start to the season, one that might not start until at least December and in a conference-only format.
“Patience is everything right now,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma told reporters Monday. “You can’t really have anything other than patience. I’m trying to be realistic, too. I told our staff this morning, ‘Once the rest of the country cancels football, we’ll know there’s no fall sports at all.’ “So there won’t be any [basketball] games in November. And then we can start thinking about January, maybe, or February. Who knows?”— Jeff Borzello
Which hurdles that derailed the college football season will have to be solved for college basketball to be played in 2020-21?
One of the biggest hurdles will be what happens when college students around the country return to campuses this month. We’ve already seen a significant number of positive tests on the football side and a couple of basketball teams shutting down workouts due to positive tests — and that’s without the general student body on campus.
“We have all these protocols in place, but it doesn’t matter,” one ACC men’s basketball coach said. “We can’t watch them 24 hours a day. How do you manage that? It’s impossible. And then how do you manage it with 20,000 or 30,000 people on campus in the fall?”
Two other hurdles are money and testing. The power conferences obviously have more money than mid- and low-major leagues, which impacts how many leagues can ultimately create a bubble and how often a league can test its players. Part of the reason non-conference games are low on the priority list is the disparity in testing protocols between the big and small conferences. But an elimination of nonconference games would also eliminate buy games and guarantee games in men’s basketball, where high-major programs pay low-major programs to come play on the road. The money earned from those games makes up a huge amount of the low-major program’s budget.
College basketball conferences also seem to understand the need to communicate consistently with one another — and to their student-athletes — in order to have a season. Because there are so many more leagues and so many more teams, it can’t be an every-conference-for-themselves approach. College football might have realized this too late.
The biggest hurdle, obviously, will be the virus itself. As one conference official noted, not much has changed between when the sport shut down on March 12 and today — besides the added risk of serious heart issues stemming from the coronavirus. — Borzello
And what does this mean for other fall sports?
The Big Ten is traditionally one of the most powerful and best-attended conferences in women’s volleyball; Penn State has won seven NCAA titles and Nebraska has won five. The NCAA championship is scheduled to be played in December in the heart of Big Ten country: Omaha, Nebraska.
Another Big Ten team, last year’s national runner-up Wisconsin, is also projected as one of the top teams for this season. Badgers coach Kelly Sheffield said Tuesday that if the NCAA volleyball tournament is moved to the spring, he wonders whether the NCAA might need to outsource it.
“If the NCAA staff is overwhelmed because of everything, do they have enough people to put on a championship?” Sheffield said. “If they don’t, maybe they bring in an events-management company to come in and put on the championship for one year. But I think it’s certainly doable.”
Since the volleyball season typically ends in December, top seniors often finish school then and go play in professional leagues overseas starting the following January or February. But Sheffield said he thinks most seniors would stay for a spring NCAA tournament; they also might not have the standard professional options in other countries because of the pandemic.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 decisions move the Women’s College Cup to the brink of extinction in 2020. The NCAA Board of Governors earlier this month set a specific requirement that championship events will be called off if 50 percent or more of a division’s participating teams cancel their fall seasons. More than 160 of the 342 Division I women’s soccer programs are either members of conferences that have postponed fall sports or are schools, like Old Dominion, that called off fall sports independent of conference decisions.
The Pac-12 decision also removes one of the two conferences that dominates women’s college soccer, leaving the ACC. Stanford is the reigning national champion, while Pac-12 schools have won five national titles since 2011.
While it affects a relatively small number of players, pushing a potential college soccer season to the spring also creates headaches for the transition to the professional level. Unlike their football peers, soccer players might face a choice between playing a final college season or reporting to training camps in MLS or the NWSL in March.
The college pipeline is a bigger deal for women’s soccer, where more than a dozen rookies played in the recent eight-team NWSL Challenge Cup. And the next NWSL draft, traditionally held in January, is particularly significant. In addition to expansion Racing Louisville, whose arrival creates more job openings, the draft is headlined by two-time national player of the year Catarina Macario. Whether or not NFL prospects would play a spring college season, the calendar at least makes it a theoretical possibility. Not so in soccer. — Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel