Big Ten reverses course, football to return in October

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Big Ten football is coming back this fall.

On Wednesday morning, the conference announced its plan to return to play next month, which includes rigorous testing protocols. The season is set to kick off the weekend of Oct. 23-24, and each team will play eight games.

Click the video box on this page to see comments from Gopher Football players shortly after they learned their season is back on for this fall

Big Ten university presidents and chancellors came to the decision after several days of mulling over fall sports amid COVID-19 spikes at colleges around the country.

“Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes. Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “We are incredibly grateful for the collaborative work that our Return to Competition Task Force have accomplished to ensure the health, safety and wellness of student-athletes, coaches and administrators.”

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The Big Ten’s plan includes mandatory daily testing for anyone who is on field during games and practices, such as student-athletes, coaches and trainers. The test results must be completed before all games and practices, and anyone who tests positive will require a polymerase chain reaction test to confirm the results.

If student-athletes test positive, they will be evaluated for cardiac evaluation before returning. At a minimum, players will have to wait 21 days from the date of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis before rejoining the team.

Daily testing is scheduled to start by Sept. 30.

Each school will designate a staff member to oversee the collection and reporting of test results to the conference, and team test positivity rates and population positivity rate thresholds will guide recommendations for practice and competition, the release stated.

A condition that would allow individual schools to opt-out was among the items discussed during the return-to-play meetings, a source told the Associated Press. There was no mention of an opt-out clause in the Big Ten’s official announcement on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bradley Nelson, the medical director for Gopher Athletics at the University of Minnesota, said the university’s sports medicine team "has worked with the other medical professionals in the Big Ten to develop protocols that now allow the safe return of football."

Additionally, the university stated Director of Athletics Mark Coyle has had daily conversations with league athletic directors and head coaches as the Big Ten Conference continued conversations about a return to play.

"I support restarting the Big Ten football season," University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel said in a statement. "The health and safety of our student-athletes and the community that surrounds them was and has always been our top priority. We have continued to listen to medical professionals and follow their expert advice during the past month. With the additional research, enhanced safety protocols, and a commitment to work closely together as a conference on research and safety for student-athletes, we are now ready to play football."

The conference said it will provide an update on other fall and winter sports in the near future.

The Big Ten postponed its fall season Aug. 11 because of concerns about playing through the coronavirus pandemic, with presidents and chancellors voting 11-3 in favor. Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska voted against postponement.

The Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference began play last weekend, and the Southeastern Conference is set to play starting Sept. 26. If the Big Ten goes ahead with its season, the Pac-12 will remain the only Power 5 conference holding out on its college football season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.