Just as the football season was starting to get off the ground, the sport has been brought to a screeching halt.
The Big Ten announced Tuesday that it has postponed all sports competition for this fall over concerns surrounding COVID-19, becoming the first major Power Five conference to do so. The league said it is going to attempt to play a spring football season.
“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 in a release. “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.”
Though six players opted out, Maryland started its first fall camp practice Friday after the league released updated schedules and medical protocol earlier that week. But once the Mid-American Conference (MAC) announced the cancellation of its season Saturday night, the tides started to shift.
Reports circulated Sunday night that the conference was cancelling the season, leading players to start a #WeWantToPlay movement in hopes of swaying the minds of officials. On Monday, several prominent coaches in the conference, including Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Penn State’s James Franklin, spoke out against a cancelation of the season, but university presidents agreed there were too many medical risks.
“We know how significant the student-athlete experience can be in shaping the future of the talented young women and men who compete in the Big Ten Conference,” Warren said. “Although that knowledge made this a painstaking decision, it did not make it difficult.
“While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, 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.”
Though there’s been clear issues all along due to the pandemic, major conferences were trying to hold on due to massive financial blow this decision brings. Even for a program like Maryland that isn’t a big football school, the program is crucial to the finances of the entire athletic department. Last season, the program had a revenue of over $108 million, according to USA TODAY’s NCAA financial database.
Programs across the league will attempt to save that revenue with the possibility play this spring. However, a spring season would raise questions for NFL draft-eligible prospects about participation, as well as play recovery before a 2021 fall season. There hasn’t been any information released regarding the retention of eligibility for student-athletes.
“Not being able to compete this fall is disappointing for all of us, but I have every confidence [our student-athletes] will remain resilient and strong in these trying times,” Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said in a release. “We will continue to support every one of them and will work diligently with university leadership, local and state officials, and the conference to make every effort to provide competitive opportunities for our student-athletes.”