There may finally be some clarity surrounding college football.
After a meeting on Tuesday morning, Big Ten Presidents and Chancellors voted to postpone fall sports.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
Men's and women's soccer and cross country, field hockey, volleyball and football will all be affected by the decision.
The unprecedented move comes in times dominated by confusion. The decision was made a day after the Big Ten refuted multiple reports that the college Presidents of the conference voted to cancel fall athletics over the weekend. Reports are that the PAC-12 will follow the Big Ten's path and postpone its season, with hopes of a Spring season for the sports affected.
“For the second time in five months, the Big Ten Conference made the unfortunate but necessary decision to postpone an athletic season in order to protect the health and well-being of our student-athletes, staff, and community members,” Michigan athletic directory Warde Manuel said in a release Tuesday. “As a result, all fall sport schedules have been postponed. This latest decision was reached after careful consideration and the grim knowledge that this pandemic continues to affect our country adversely. I am deeply saddened for our student-athletes and remain committed to our ongoing promise to provide them with a world-class education. We remain grateful to our global Michigan family for their unwavering support.”
The decision to cancel contradicts the wishes of its players and coaches, who took to Twitter Sunday to tweet support for playing football. Jim Harbaugh on Monday released a statement in support of playing football, saying his program has been able to limit the spread of COVID-19. Nebraska coach Scott Frost said Nebraska will explore every option to play football, even if the Big Ten votes to cancel.
“Our football team, our coaching staff, our support staff in Schembechler Hall have all stepped up, followed every rule, and done everything in their power magnificently to give all the opportunity to compete,” Harbaugh's new statement on Tuesday said. “I am extremely proud, thankful and appreciative of our team and how they have conducted and represented our program and university.”
A spokesperson for the football team told The Daily that the team will continue to hold voluntary practices, meetings and strength and conditioning for 20 hours per week, including practice on Tuesday. The statement released by athletic director Warde Manuel says that all athletic activities will be suspended immediately, including practices. The Daily was told that line will change on the announcement, as the Big Ten cleared Michigan to work under the 20-hour rule.
University President Mark Schlissel released a statement on Twitter supporting the decision to postpone, in contrast with Harbaugh.
“I fully support the difficult Big Ten decision to postpone fall athletics competition,” Schlissel wrote. “There are too many poorly understood health and safety concerns unique to intercollegiate athletics to move forward with practices and competition at present — and the impact of extreme physical exertion on the health risk of COVID-19 has not been well-assessed.
“I join athletic director Warde Manuel and everyone at Michigan Athletics in expressing my empathy to all who were looking forward to competing, coaching, supporting and cheering us on as members of the Wolverine family. I particularly feel badly for our student-athletes who gain so much from participation in their sports and are such outstanding representatives of the university. We will work hard to return them safely to competition.”
The delay gives both America and colleges time to contain the spread of the virus and adjust to the return of students, one of the biggest hurdles that still faces colleges trying to return safely and educate its students. In order for there to be sports, first the student population on campus must be healthy and the Big Ten needs to know the impact that students have on the numbers of COVID-19 cases.
“While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families,” Warren said, “I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point. 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.”
Time, right now, is all the Big Ten has that can make the possibility of any sports a reality, something that schools across the country have been trying to get more of throughout the summer as the decision has been delayed time and time again. Now, it has until spring to make a the final decision.
Nicholas Stoll and Emma Stein contributed to the reporting of this story.