FAYETTEVILLE – The Big Ten and the Pac 12 Tuesday cancelled their 2020 football season and all of their 2020 fall sports with hopes to play some sort of football season in the spring should conditions from the ongoing worldwide COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic improve.
“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 Tuesday statement. “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.”
The Big Ten and Pac 12 became the first of the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) Power Five conferences to cancel their 2020 fall sports season.”
“All of the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors understand the importance of this decision, and the disappointment it will create for our student-athletes, the coaches, support staff and all of our fans,” University of Oregon President Michael H. Schil said. “Ultimately, our decision was guided by science and a deep commitment to the health and welfare of student-athletes. We certainly hope that the Pac-12 will be able to return to competition in the New Year.”
The remaining three Power Five conferences, the SEC, of which includes the University of Arkansas’ Razorbacks, are a the ACC and the Big 12 still evaluate whether to play in 2020.
For now, the SEC intends to play.
“I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said via a SEC Office released statement Tuesday afternoon. “I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes. We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day.”
Two conferences among the FBS’ Group of Five, the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West Conference, have cancelled their 2020 football and fall seasons as has the University of Connecticut a football independent.
Though Conference USA currently intends to play football this fall, C-USA member Old Dominion University has cancelled its 2020 football season.Nine conferences in the next tier FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) have cancelled their 2020 football and fall sports.All impact college but the Big Ten ’s obviously impacts the most as a Power Five conference.
Sankey, who has cited the health protocols established for all its teams with the SEC Medical Task Force augmented by each schools’ medical and training staffs, continues stressing patience. He notes the league delayed the start of preseason football practices from the original Aug. 7 to Aug. 17, delayed the season’s first game week from Sept. 5 to Sept. 26 and reduced the season from 12 to 10 games by adding two more SEC games from the original 8-SEC games schedule and eliminating each school’s four non-conference games.
Appearing on national television Tuesday on Good Morning America, Sankey was asked about the attempt to play football even as COVID-19 hotspots occur in parts of all the SEC’s 11 states.
“You have to remember our student-athletes are really in a bubble on our campuses,” Sankey said. “We have athletic’s programs with embedded health professionals. Each of our universities has taken this virus seriously from the beginning. We’ve been involved in testing, we’ve been involved in care, we’ve been involved in following local health policies continuously. I think it has provided a healthy environment.”
At Arkansas, the Razorbacks are reported to have had no athlete test COVID-19 positive these past two weeks.
“We’ve been very deliberate in our decision making,” Sankey said. “We haven’t put young people in helmets and pads for practice. We’ve been thoughtful about what this entire summer may look like. We’ve moved the start of our season back to Sept. 26, three weeks after the last of our campuses return because we’re going continuously be monitoring what happens in each of our states. Our timeline is really based on the advice of a biostatistician way back in April. He said to me, “This is a new virus and we have not been through this before. So the longer you take to make decisions the better information you’ll have available to make those decisions.’ That has been wise counsel and counsel we’ve repeated at every step of the way.”
Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, stressing he’s certainly ready to change his mind if compelling evidence shows he should change it, for now advocates proceeding with caution and tweeted Monday his appreciation the #WeWanttoPlay movement that various college players started posting Sunday night on Twitter.
“We want to continue to work that plan,” Yurachek said Monday of what the SEC set forth during the summer with additional planning by medical and coaching staffs from each school. “We’re not gonna panic because another Power 5 conference may be making a different decision. In the Southeastern Conference, Greg Sankey does an incredible job leading us. Part of his leadership in the past several months has been for us to be patient and take time in making decisions. These are some really impactful decisions we’re having to make and there’s no need to rush into making those decisions.”