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Big Ten Cancels Fall Football Season, But Could Still Play In Spring

Ohio State Marching Band and Alumni Marching Band Members perform Script Ohio at an Ohio State football game.
Thomas Bradley
Ohio State Marching Band and Alumni Marching Band Members perform Script Ohio at an Ohio State football game

The Big Ten Conference has canceled the fall football season for the first time in its 125-year history, along with all other fall sports. But the conference may still pursue a season this spring.  

“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," said Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren in a statement.

In addition to football, affected sports include men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.

"The Big Ten Conference will continue to evaluate a number of options regarding these sports, including the possibility of competition in the spring," the statement reads. "Decisions regarding winter and spring sports will also continue to be evaluated."

The Pac-12 Conference, which includes schools like the University of Arizona and UCLA, made its own vote to postpone sports competitions until 2021.

In a statement, Ohio State University's athletics director and incoming president both said they are invested in making sure sports can return to competition as soon as possible.

“We are focused on supporting our student-athletes in every way, ensuring their scholarships are still in place, and looking out for their health and safety and the health and safety of all our students as they continue to pursue their studies in these challenging times,” said president-elect Kristina Johnson.

“As an institution and as an athletic department, we have a responsibility first and foremost to care for the health, safety and wellness of our students and staff, and I believe we have done that successfully," said Athletics director Gene Smith.

Ohio State said all student-athletes will remain on scholarship, and the athletics department will maintain its COVID-19 testing program, access to team facilities and other sports and educational services.

Players, coaches and even some politicians made a push Monday against outright cancellation. “If anything, let’s only postpone the season. Certainly let’s not cancel it right now,” Ohio State head football coach Ryan Day told 10TV.

Ohio State quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Justin Fields also tweeted about his desire to play. The statement shared by Fields calls for a season that includes health and safety procedures across all conferences, and players having the ability to opt out of the season without losing their eligibility.

"While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point," Warren wrote.

The cancellation of the fall season comes as Ohio and other states around the Midwest deal with spikes in coronavirus cases. However, many universities are still moving to bring students back to campus this month for some mix of in-person and remote classes.

The football team held its scheduled practice on Monday morning. Ohio State was slated to play its first game against Illinois on September 3, under a condensed 10-game schedule.

Reacting to the news Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Mike DeWine called the decision "a disappointment for Buckeye Nation."

"Probably more importantly, it's a disappointment for the young men who play football, who are on Ohio State, whatever year it is," DeWine said during his regular coronavirus briefing.

The governor said he spoke Tuesday morning with Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith.

"As a fan, I'm disappointed, but it was a decision that was made by the Big Ten, that was made by the schools, as we have to respect that decision," DeWine said.

If other major conferences SEC and ACC decide to keep the fall season, it would be a blow to Ohio State, which competes every year for the nation’s top high school recruits. Many of the Buckeye’s top players can request NCAA waivers allowing them to transfer immediately.

The announcement comes less than a week after the Big Ten released the season schedule, with schools playing only play in-conference games to limit COVID-19 exposure and give schools more flexibility to reschedule.

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.