The Big Ten has officially announced that all fall athletics, including football, will only be against other Big Ten opponents in an attempt to play amidst the coronavirus pandemic that continues to spike nationwide.
The conference claims the decision took months to come to and cancels marquee games such as Washington hosting Michigan and Oregon hosting Ohio State.
While the Big Ten's decision will disappoint many, it won't be the last landmark ruling in regards to the college football season. In fact, it's just the first domino.
The Pac-12 had already been in talks of only playing conference games, USC head coach Clay Helton said as much back in May.
Now two months later, California, home to a third of the Pac-12 conference, has the most lifetime coronavirus cases among all states with more than 289,000 per the CDC. That's 70,000 more than Florida who has always had lax guidelines for handling the pandemic.
Now with two of the conferences' largest non-conference games going away, it's only a matter of time before the Pac-12 follows suit, as will many other conferences. Similar to how after Duke and Kansas stated they will sit out the NCAA Tournament last March at the onset of the pandemic, the event was canceled, and justifiably so.
They were the first dominoes to fall.
The Pac-12 reportedly plans to announce a conference-only schedule in the coming days according to Bryan Fischer of College Football Talk.
Source says Pac-12 is likely to follow the Big Ten’s lead in the coming days on a conference-only slate this fall.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) July 9, 2020
Additionally, so has the ACC per Brent McMurphy of Stadium.
ACC football also expected to play conference-only games, sources told @Stadium. Last month, ACC commish John Swofford told @Stadium if Power 5 schools played conference-only schedules that ACC would assist Notre Dame with as many games as it needed— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) July 9, 2020
People throughout the SEC were reportedly shocked by the Big Ten's decision as the conference was hoping to wait as long as possible to make a decision about the 2020 season. Now, the SEC feels it's been backed into a corner to fall in line, especially with other power-five conferences doing so.
While it was only a matter of time for the impending decisions given how little real progress has been made fighting the virus, what the SEC and the rest of college football should be wondering, is will a 2020 season even happen? Not who it will be against.
Take USC, for example, who has announced that all of the fall semester will be taught online due to the virus's outbreak in Los Angeles following a premature reopening. How can the NCAA and Pac-12 justify having student-athletes on campus to play games, when they claim the athletes are just like other students while preaching amateurism.
If the virus continues to spread rapidly throughout the nation, it would be a terrible look for millionaire athletic directors and conference commissioners to force college athletes, whom they refuse to pay, to participate in games that endanger their safety to fulfill television contracts and line their pockets.
If you're not comfortable having students on campus, then you shouldn't be comfortable with football happening!
Additionally, student-athletes are beginning to speak up more. UCLA players requested a third-party health official to be on-site to ensure their safety. Clearly, there is mistrust between student-athletes and those running college football programs in some schools. If forced to play in unsafe conditions, that noise could only grow.
The NBA plans to resume play because the league is paying for a bubble environment that will cost them hundreds of millions of dollars to preserve, and that's with 22 teams going to Orlando with a maximum of 35 people per franchise. College football teams have over a hundred players when accounting for non-scholarship players. They will not be in a bubble but rather a college campus.
Already, various schools have had to shut down voluntary workouts due to the virus infecting members of the program. Clemson had 23 players test positive in June. North Carolina had 37 players and staff test positive this month. Ohio State had to shut down workouts due to an undisclosed amount of positive tests.
The virus "mostly spread[s] by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze," per the CDC. Having players tackle each other, stuck on the ground in dogpiles for fumbles, heavily breathing in each other's faces sounds like a disaster.
It would not be a matter of if an outbreak happens at a game, but when.
One possibility is pushing the college football season back to the spring, which may allow time for a vaccine to be cleared and distributed. However, former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said he would heavily be against pushing the season, and that he would encourage players to sit out if they would be a high round NFL Draft pick. Especially with the NFL reportedly not interested in pushing the draft back from April, players could be drafted during the season.
“If I’m Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields or [Chris] Olave, some of these high, high draft picks, I’m not playing," Meyer said. "I’m getting to go make some money and go earn a living and support my family.”
Meyer also cited the safety of student-athletes.
“When you play a long season and when you get to spring practice," Meyer said on Fox's Big Noon Kickoff. "When you play 2,000 competitive reps, your body is not ready for contact in three months or two months. It’s not. I would not put those players in harm’s way."
Well, that may be the case and some maneuvering of the 2021 season would have to occur to compensate a 2020 spring season, but playing during a pandemic without a vaccine, and when colleges don't rule it's safe enough for in-person classes also puts the student-athlete in harm's way.
The NCAA is going to risk the safety of the student-athletes by playing football in either season. Now, with eight weeks until the scheduled start of the season, the NCAA needs to quickly decide which risk they'll take.
Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith has said that it would take a minimum of six weeks of practice to get his team ready to play a competitive football game.
Well, the clock is ticking for a final decision on the fall season, then, because playing only conference games appears non-negotiable.