With the window of opportunity for college football nearly closed, the Big Ten Conference dealt the multi-billion-dollar sport a significant blow Tuesday by calling off its fall sports season.
Football, conference officials said, will hopefully be played again in the spring but could not be contested on the usual fall Saturdays due to the continuing rates of COVID-19 infection across the U.S. Officials cited health and safety concerns. They no doubt also are mindful of the massive liabilities faced by universities and college sports entities, especially given that the long-term health risks to those affected by coronavirus are unknown.
The Mid-Atlantic and Mountain West conferences yanked fall sports in recent days, making the Big Ten announcement less of a surprise. As momentum to put a pin in the season built last weekend, a group of star players from the “Power 5” conferences pushed back. Backed by supporters including President Donald Trump, they used the hashtag #WeWantToPlay to call for a return to the field but with proper safety precautions.
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The Southeastern Conference, the top conference in college football, remains a holdout. Officials have said they are waiting to gather evidence before finalizing a decision. The season is due to kick off in the first week of September.
Disney, Fox and ViacomCBS are among the companies apt to suffer from the college game’s absence, though the NFL is expected to spread out into Friday nights and Saturdays. The pros will have the sports world to themselves after the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball wrap their seasons by the end of October.
“Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff,” said Morton Schapiro, Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University President in the conferences statement.
“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,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “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.
“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. 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.”
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