Nebraska will begin fall camp as originally scheduled, on Friday, Aug. 7.
The Huskers’ opening opponent has changed with the announcement of the new 2020 Big Ten league schedule—Nebraska opens at Rutgers instead of at home against Purdue—but the Big Ten ultimately elected to keep the start date of its season the same. Meaning preseason practices will get underway shortly for programs not currently dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks. (*cough* Rutgers *cough*)
Nebraska’s schedule features bye weeks on Oct. 17 and Nov. 7. The Big Ten also has an open date for teams across the board on Nov. 28, and then two open weeks following the Big Ten championship game (Dec. 5).
All of this, of course, is written in pencil. During an appearance on BTN Wednesday morning to talk about the new schedule, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren wouldn’t give a number when asked how confident he was they’d be able to complete the schedule Big Ten country is now talking about, saying only that he’s taking everything day-by-day.
But, Warren believes the Big Ten has given itself as much flexibility as it can to adjust as it needs to moving forward.
“What went into the decision (to keep the start date on Sept. 5) was to afford us the best possible opportunity to be as flexible as we possibly can,” Warren said. “If something were to happen where we didn’t start on Sept. 5, we’d have the flexibility to start on Sept. 12 or Sept. 19 and because we have those open dates throughout the schedule and on the backend, we’d be able to collapse some of those early dates to a later date. The big thing for us right now is always the health and safety of our student-athletes and everyone in our Big Ten community, but also to have as much flexibility as we possibly can.”
Each of the conference’s 14 teams will play six divisional opponents and four crossover games. Nebraska will see Rutgers, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State from the East. Everyone in the league has a cross-division matchup in Week 1 and Week 12. For Nebraska, it plays five of its divisional games in the first eight weeks. Not an entirely front-loaded divisional schedule, but those games across the board come earlier as opposed to later.
Nebraska’s Week 1 crossover opponent is Rutgers. As NJ.com has reported in recent days, the Scarlet Knights have had to halt preseason workouts and quarantine its team with as many as 28 positive COVID-19 tests returned by football players and staff. Their outbreak is linked to a campus party student-athletes attended.
The Big Ten, in addition to its new schedule, released a more detailed look at some of its guidelines and medical procedures that will be put into place. The NCAA has previously said tests for a game week are to be completed no later than Thursday for any given week.
In the Big Ten, football will be required to conduct PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, at minimum, twice a week and at least three days in advance of that week’s game. Low-contact sports will be required to conduct PCR tests once a week minimum. The conference is also working on potentially implementing rapid testing into its regiment.
Once the season begins, testing will be handled by a third-party lab, Warren said, in order to boost consistency and credibility.
The league will also require quarantined players to complete a full 14-day quarantine after high-risk contact with a person who has either tested positive or is suspected of being infected. They will not have the ability to test out.
Other guidelines include:
- Person under investigation (PUI): Isolate individual with suspected infection, notify the appropriate team personnel, and refer to a medical professional for evaluation and management. If testing subsequently reveals the individual is positive for the virus, close contacts are required to be immediately quarantined and the individual placed in isolation.
- Pre-competition patient PUI or confirmed case: For cases that arise after pre-competition testing but before competition begins, the individual is required to be promptly isolated and contact traced. If testing subsequently reveals the individual is positive for the virus, close contacts are required to be immediately quarantined prior to competition and the individual placed in isolation.
- In-competition PUI: For cases that arise during competition, the individual needs to be promptly isolated, and that information is required to be shared with the current opponent to aid in decisions about how to proceed with that competition. If testing subsequently reveals the individual is positive for the virus, close contacts are required to be immediately quarantined and the individual placed in isolation.
- Post-competition PUI or confirmed case: For confirmed cases that arise after competition is completed, the individual is required to be promptly isolated and contact traced to quarantine close contacts. Information is required to be shared with the previous week’s opponent, if applicable, to facilitate contact tracing at the opponent’s institution.
- A confirmed asymptomatic infection: Required isolation for at least 10 days from the positive test (20 days if severely immunocompromised according to CDC criteria). They must be cleared by team physician prior to return.
- A confirmed symptomatic infection: Infected individuals with mild to moderate illnesses who are not severely immunocompromised must be isolated for at least 10 days from onset of symptoms and at least 1 day (24 hours) has passed since recovery, defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement of respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) in accordance with current CDC guidance. For severe illnesses or severely immunocompromised individuals regardless of illness severity, the isolation period should be extended to 20 days from the onset of symptoms and at least 1 day (24 hours) since recovery.
You can see the league’s full set of medical guidelines here.
Last week, a group of Pac-12 players publicly stated their intention to sit out of all team activities for fall sports unless the conference agreed to key points in a proposal regarding COVID-19-related health and safety measures, among other things. One of that group’s requests was that standards be enforced by a third-party selected by the players.
Earlier this summer, players at UCLA asked a third-party health official be on hand to monitor COVID-related policies. Monday, via multiple players, coaches and sports medicine staff, ESPN reported that Colorado State was discouraging athletes from being tested, not reporting results to local health officials, and ignoring quarantine protocols.
In recent days, Warren has met on multiple occasions with Big Ten players to hear their voices and concerns about playing amid a pandemic. From Nebraska’s end, the response has been positive.
Warren said that the league office is involved in discussions when a team decides to shut down workouts—as has been done at multiple Big Ten schools this summer—or make other COVID-related decisions, but those decisions are ultimately left to the university to make in conjunction with local health and safety officials.
“Our 14 Big Ten institutions lay over 11 different states,” he said. “We will always follow the policies and the procedures and the laws in our 11 different states. We have different states in our footprint, and because of that, our 14 institutions are working in conjunction with their local policies and procedures. We’re here to support them, we’re here to support any decisions that they make. We have great collaboration.”
That is what will allow attendance limits to differ by team. Ohio State, under a current order from the Ohio Department of Health, would not be allowed to have fans in attendance. Nebraska has not publicly stated yet whether it intends to allow fans at a certain capacity.
“Our next task is finalizing many of the details and protocols for football game days at Memorial Stadium in 2020,” the university said in a joint statement from Chancellor Ronnie Green and Athletic Director Bill Moos. “We will be announcing those details very soon after consultation with state and local officials.”
Still details to work out. Still the potential for a number of moving pieces. But, at the very least, there’s clarity for coaching staffs and players around the conference on who they’re playing, when they’ll be able to play, and when they’ll be able to get to work.
Now everyone will just have to borrow a page from Nebraska’s playbook and take things day by day.
“As I sit here today,” Warren said, “I’m confident that we’ve done everything we possibly can up to this moment to move to tomorrow.”