Big Ten officially reverses course, announces return of football season

MADISON, Wis. — The Big Ten Conference is officially announcing a return to the football field.

After an August vote by the conference’s presidents and chancellors not to play fall sports, the conference is reversing course when it comes to football. The decision was widely reported Tuesday before the official announcement was released Wednesday morning.

Earlier this week, UW-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank said if football was going to be played this year, it would be as a conference, and not with individual schools deciding whether to play. The Big Ten announced Wednesday morning the vote was unanimous among the Council of Presidents and Chancellors.

The Big Ten made their decision not to play in August due to concerns about testing and tracing, as well as long-term heart issues found in young athletes who had tested positive for the virus. Blank had said the conference wouldn’t return to play unless those questions were answered.

“Medical advisors to the Big Ten have produced clear protocols for testing, isolation, and return to play,” Blank said in a statement Wednesday. “They also have a protocol to check any athletes who become ill for heart-related problems. With these protocols, the health concerns that I had in August have been allayed. The Big Ten has also agreed to pay for the testing, which will be done in a uniform manner in all schools.

“Above all, I support our coaches and student-athletes and want them to have the opportunity to safely compete, if possible. I believe the plan put forward by the Return to Competition Committee, with its extensive safety protocols and tight controls, allows that to happen.”

The decision comes as two residence halls and several fraternity, sorority and student activity houses are under quarantine and the school is shifting to all virtual classes for at least two weeks due to outbreaks of COVID-19. The university has seen 1,508 students and 8 employees test positive for COVID-19 since testing began on August 7th.

Play will begin on October 24, with each school playing 8 games — 4 at home, and 4 away. The Big Ten Championship Game will still be played on Dec. 19, meaning the winner would still be eligible for consideration in the College Football Playoff on its Dec. 20 selection day.