The Big Ten announced a major change to its fall sports schedules for the 2020 season. The conference has mandated that all of its members move toward a conference-only schedule for fall sports. Word of the potential change broke early Thursday afternoon and it didn’t take long for it to become official.
“The Big Ten Conference announced today that if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports,” a release from the Big Ten said. “Details for these sports will be released at a later date, while decisions on sports not listed above will continue to be evaluated. By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”
Nebraska’s fall sports include football, volleyball, women’s soccer and cross country.
“We are pleased that the Big Ten is planning to move forward with fall sports,” Nebraska said in a joint statement by Chancellor Ronnie Green, University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter and Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos. “The conference has determined a path forward that helps to mitigate risk and will allow Husker student-athletes to compete on the field and in the arena. The most important thing is the safety of our student-athletes and that of our Athletics staff and coaches, and we appreciate the thoughtful approach taken by the Big Ten. Athletics is a valuable part of campus life, and important to our community and the state of Nebraska. We are fortunate that the COVID-19 pandemic has not been as widespread in Nebraska and look forward to safely hosting Big Ten competitions. While there are still many details left to be worked out, we are eager to safely cheer on our Husker student-athletes.”
The change eliminates three nonconference matchups for Nebraska football on its 2020 schedule: Sept. 12 against Central Michigan, Sept. 19 against South Dakota State and Sept. 26 against Cincinnati. All three matchups were to be held at Memorial Stadium.
Coach Scott Frost and his team are currently scheduled to open their season against Purdue on Saturday, Sept. 5. The last time the Huskers opened their season against a conference opponent was 2003. Nebraska defeated No. 24 Oklahoma State 17-7 in Lincoln.
When recently asked about the potential of an all-league schedule, Frost said he thought “0%” of Big Ten coaches would be in favor of it. He mentioned the contracts with nonconference opponents as a reason to try and make it work.
“We’re fighting the fight,” he told the Omaha World-Herald.
A concern was recently raised around the testing that would be needed prior to games. That included a statement from South Dakota State athletic director Justin Sell about not testing Jackrabbit student-athletes.
“We have not been testing for coronavirus,” Sell said. “That hasn’t been part of our deal. If testing is needing to be part of that ability to play, we’ve got to work within our state … and figure out the financial impacts of that.”
Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos later said the Huskers would need to be “comfortable and every school has to be comfortable with the school coming in (to play) having followed the same or at least similar protocols so we’re not making ourselves vulnerable.”
As for volleyball, Coach John Cook recently told Hail Varsity that his team would be ready to move toward a local-focused nonconference schedule if necessary.
“We’re planning as if we’re going to have a full season,” Cook said at the time. “That’s the plan. Now, if it gets scaled back or delayed, some of it gets canceled, then we adjust. But we’re going to plan as if we’ll have a full season. That’s what they’ve said, so that’s what we’re going to plan for and then be ready to adjust. But nothing would surprise me at this point.”
Nebraska volleyball had already changed its nonconference schedule significantly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Huskers canceled a planned trip to TCU, and their multi-year event including Stanford, Louisville and Kentucky that would have included a trip out west to face the Cardinal this season has been pushed back a year. Cook also told Hail Varsity that some teams had pulled out of the nonconference tournaments Nebraska is set to host.
The Big Ten also shared that summer athletic activities will continue to be voluntary in all sports currently permitted to engage in such activities.
“Furthermore, Big Ten student-athletes who choose not to participate in intercollegiate athletics at any time during the summer and/or the 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team,” per the release.