After days of rumors that the decision was imminent, two of the so-called “Power 5” conferences announced Tuesday that they would not be participating in intercollegiate athletics in the fall of 2020 due to the risks of the coronavirus. The Big Ten and Pac-12 postponed all fall sports, including football, citing player safety as Covid-19 cases continue to surge across the country.
“It became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to cmpete this fall,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “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.”
NCAA sports participation in the fall has largely seen decisions made at the conference or even individual school level. Several conferences that participate in the Football Championship Subdivision level announced the suspension of fall sports weeks ago, including the Ivy League and Patriot League. UConn became the first Football Bowl Subdivision school to call off its season, having lost a number of its scheduled games as conferences originally announced plans for playing only league games in the fall. Then, the Mid-American Conference announced its decision to shelve fall sports over the weekend, followed by the Mountain West Monday.
Tuesday’s announcement of no Big Ten or Pac-12 football is by far the biggest shift for NCAA fall sports amid the pandemic, which also wiped out March Madness and spring sports beginning in March. Ten of the preseason Top 25 teams (according to NCAA.com’s Wayne Staats) saw their seasons wiped out, including No. 2 Ohio State, No. 6 Oregon, and No. 8 Penn State. The Big 12 is reportedly still hoping to play its planned season, while the SEC and ACC have not yet made any announcement since shifting their schedules to avoid most non-conference games. The American Athletic Conference is reportedly hoping to follow the Big 12 lead and play its games in the fall, though no official announcement has been made.
The Pac-12 decision will also reportedly impact winter sports, as the conference will not allow participation in athletics until the end of 2020, which would shutter more than a month of the start of basketball season.
Reaction to the news was swift, and in many places very negative. Players, coaches and fans had taken to social media, trending #WeWantToPlay after news began trickling out that the two leagues were close to announcing they would be cancelling their fall seasons. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, himself a former college president, wrote a letter to Big Ten presidents and chancellors opposing the shutdown of the sport.
Nebraska’s administration also entered the fray following the decision, floating the idea of participating as an independent.
“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.”
It is unclear whether or not that is a realistic scenario, but there is little precedent for what is happening across the NCAA landscape at this time. Both the Big Ten and Pac-12 plan to play their fall sports, including football, in the spring of 2021.