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Big Ten announces return to play, set for mid-October

The conference has reversed its decision to postpone the season, officially announcing fall sports are set to kick off the weekend of Oct. 24.

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The return to play for the Big Ten has been a long-winded saga with no official end in sight, that was until speculation this week, including when University of Nebraska President Ted Carter was caught speaking on a hot-mic Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight”, Carter said to Bob Hinston, director of the National Strategic Research Institute before a press conference.

The Big Ten officially announced Wednesday that sports are indeed set to return. beginning the weekend of Oct. 24.

“Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes. Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “We are incredibly grateful for the collaborative work that our Return to Competition Task Force have accomplished to ensure the health, safety and wellness of student-athletes, coaches and administrators.”

Medical advances, specifically the availability of daily, rapid testing played a key factor in the decision. Games will be played without fans and the title game will take place Dec. 19.

Each university will have a Chief Infection Officer (CInO) to oversee collecting and reporting data. If a student does test positive, they’ll be required to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing, which entails labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI.

After such testing, student-athletes have to get clearance from a cardiologist specifically appointed by each institution. Every school will also have a cardiac registry to study any effects. Athletes also cannot return to game competition until 21 days after testing positive.

The Big Ten and its institutions will monitor each team’s status based on a seven-day rolling average of positive results within each team and the surrounding community. Here is the system outlined by the league.

Team positivity rate (number of positive tests divided by total number of tests administered):

Green 0-2%

Orange 2-5%

Red >5%

Population positivity rate (number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk):

Green 0-3.5%

Orange 3.5-7.5%

Red >7.5%

Decisions to alter or halt practice and competition will be based on the following scenarios:

Green/Green and Green/Orange: Team continues with normal practice and competition.

Orange/Orange and Orange/Red: Team must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention (alter practice and meeting schedule, consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition).

Red/Red: Team must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved.

In July, the Big Ten became the first conference to initiate steps towards fall competition by announcing all sports would play conference-only schedules. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, the conference planned to find ways to hold competitions, and other Power Five conferences followed by announcing similar changes.

One month later, the conference released its football schedule, along with medical protocols that aimed to make practice and play safe for student athletes. The decision to push forward was followed by excitement, but also push back as some players began to opt-out of the 2020 fall season due to various concerns.

At the time, rapid testing was not readily available and Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, was found in numerous athletes and had little telltale signs of how dangerous its long-term impact could be.

On Aug. 11, just a few days after announcing the season was a go, the conference ultimately decided to step back from its previous decisions and postponed all fall sports, citing the uncertainty around the lasting impact of COVID-19. As soon as reports of the decision started to circulate, players began a movement in favor of having the season.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields started #WeWantToPlay, a petition and social media movement that pushed to keep the fall Big Ten season alive. While Fields gained over 300,000 signatures, the league doubled down on its decision and released clarifications as well as beginning steps to make a safe return to play.

The list of those pushing the league to go back on its decision began to ramp up after Field’s mission, including U.S. President Donald Trump, other elected state officials and several Big Ten head coaches, including Ryan Day, Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin. Parents also protested outside of the conference headquarters and several Nebraska players filed a lawsuit.

Since mid-August, many have speculated on what decision the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) would come to. Things originally looked to be a spring season, then a Jan. 1 start date, before mid-November and now the final decision of mid-October.

With the ACC, Big 12 and SEC pushing forward with their seasons, complete with advanced testing and other measures, the Big Ten finally walked back its decision.

The conference also announced that further updates regarding other fall sports, as well as winter sports beginning in the fall, will come shortly.