The Big Ten cancels fall sports in an announcement Tuesday evening. The college football world must now grapple with the reality that they will not be apart of the 2020 season. Soon after, the Pac 12 announced it intends to follow the Big Ten’s lead in suspending sports for the rest of the year.
Big Ten Cancels Fall Sports; Where Do We Go From Here?
How We Got Here
Now, this is a poignant decision where there are no winners. None. To the universities, students, fans, and most importantly, the players and coaches, this is not a wanted outcome. Contrary to the opinion of some, nobody wants to see the college football season postponed or worse yet, canceled in its entirety. However, as the pandemic has raged on, ravaging through the United States, it was clear change was likely coming to college sports. There was time to create contingency plans. Current NCAA President Mark Emmert essentially left the conferences to make their own decisions. Thus, he deflected any real and substantial decision making away from him and his board of advisors.
So where does this leave us? As impossible as it may seem, there are more questions now than there were when the Covid-19 pandemic began in the United States in mid-March.
Right now, the SEC, ACC, Big 12, and the Sun Belt all intend to play. Greg Sankey, the SEC Commissioner, came out with a statement in response to the Big Ten and Pac 12. In it, he essentially commits to keeping their options open but intends to play. Both the ACC and Big 12 have indicated similar sentiments. Their approaches to the season are different, however. The ACC is allowing for one in-state nonconference game while the other two aren’t. On top of that, the Big 12 wants to start in August, and the SEC wants to start in late September. Only time will tell if these approaches remain, change, or are scrapped altogether. For now, these are the conference plans, so what does that mean after the Big Ten cancels fall sports?
While the South tries for fall football, the Midwest has made a clear pivot. The Big Ten stated in the aforementioned announcement that they intend to play their season in spring. One would guess the schedules the Big Ten released last week would remain the same or relatively similar. However, with so far just the Pac 12 stating they too would try a spring season, not much is known for the outcome of that season other than a glorified regular season, with no postseason opportunities.
Keeping their student-athletes in mind, they believe it is the safest decision to postpone the season and allow for hopefully a breakthrough in the fight against Covid-19.
New Commissioner Speaks
As Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren stated,
“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.”
The question bears asking, what is even remotely safe about this? Wouldn’t playing two high-level football seasons in a span of eight months be dangerous for a student-athlete’s health? It seems hypocritical to say that you’re looking out for a student-athlete’s best interest but intend for them to have two long and grueling seasons in the span of one year.
What are the physical and mental ramifications of that? A spring season seems like just a very convenient way to push problems away, and maintain a stranglehold on a player’s “amateurism” and create a less likely scenario for liability issues as a result of Covid-19.
It seems as if the decision-makers in the Big Ten are expecting their constituents to all comply, which leads to the next question.
Will any of the schools not comply?
There is certainly a scenario where schools just don’t listen to the mandate. Nebraska head coach Scott Frost has said they intend to try and play. What would this look like? Would they have to apply for a one-year waiver in a new conference, such as the Big 12? What are the legal ramifications of this? Decisions like this would open a dark, dark, door that college football has managed to keep closed. If schools begin defying orders from their conference, and the NCAA as a whole, we could potentially see the beginning of the end of amateur athletics as we know them in their current form.
Where do we go from here?
We are heading down unexplored territory. The college football landscape is split into two parties. One that intends to play in the fall, and one that has decided the risks are too much. Decisions will be made, and unfortunately, like most things in life, not everyone will be pleased. The sad reality is that college football as we know it will likely never look the same.
The combination of a deadly unforeseen global pandemic and abhorrent leadership from the NCAA has culminated in the collapse of one of America’s most iconic and transformative sporting institutions, college football.
In a year of unpredictability and uncertainty, we now have one thing that is now certain.
Fall Saturday’s will look a lot different.