When the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced on Tuesday they would cancel their fall 2020 college football season with hopes of playing in spring 2021, it was a decision that came after weeks of pressure, uncertainty and indecision.
While a number of factors played into the conference’s decisions to postpone their fall seasons, health concerns remained the primary issue. After the Big Ten became the first conference to succumb to the pressure from medical experts saying it was unsafe to play, commissioner Kevin Warren addressed these concerns in a statement the conference released on Tuesday.
"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," Warren said. "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.”
His statement said the conference’s decision was based on “multiple factors” and that the Big Ten "relied on the medical advice and counsel of the Big Ten Task Force” to make the decision with safety at the forefront. However, as college athletics have seen in recent weeks, the virus itself was not the only health concern challenging the season with myocarditis emerging as a primary concern in the sport.
Myocarditis –– or the inflammation of the heart muscle, which can reduce the heart’s ability to pump and cause rapid or abnormal heartbeat –– has been elevated as a primary issue for Power 5 conferences after the condition was linked to the lasting effects of COVID-19. Its symptoms include chest pain, abnormal heartbeat, shortness of breath and even sudden death, in the most serious of cases, and the condition results in 2-5% of all sudden deaths in American sports.
At least 15 Big Ten players developed myocarditis after contracting COVID-19, a high-ranking source in the conference told CBS Sports. Warren and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby both privately expressed serious concern over the condition.
However, it was unclear whether the rare condition would play a major role in the decision until the Pac-12 and Big Ten reached an agreement. Ultimately, it did.
“Myocarditis is the ballgame right now,” the same source told CBS Sports. “Myocarditis is the major issue they're looking at…Between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, that's what is really driving the push to push this off to spring."
While the Big Ten and Pac-12 were influenced by the data provided about the condition, other conferences have yet to respond. Bowlsby told the Associated Press on Sunday that there was “growing evidence” of concern for myocarditis within the Big 12 especially. Additionally, medical experts told West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons that by moving the fall season the spring, it “will give us more time to be able to understand if the virus does necessarily impact the heart."
The visible impacts of myocarditis on players within their own conferences and in other sports were enough for the Big Ten and Pac-12 to pull the plug. Now, the Big 12, ACC and SEC are up next as players, coaches and fans anxiously await their decision in the coming days.
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