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Big Ten Conference announces football schedule and COVID-19 testing protocols

 – Photo by The Daily Targum

The Big Ten approved of a 10-game conference-only schedule for the football season, according to a press release. The first games will be played on Sept. 5 and final games on Nov. 21. The Big Ten Championship game is slated for Dec. 5. 

With that being said, conference officials also acknowledged they may have to cancel or delay competition based on the health and safety of the players and coaches. They plan to enact regular testing and quarantine protocols throughout the season, they said. The schedule has been created to provide flexibility for any adjustments that may have to be made due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Big Ten also announced that the seasons for men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball have been delayed through at least Sept. 5. Conference officials are currently still working on schedules.

The Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee have aided the conference in creating medical plans for the season. All testing will be done by a third-party laboratory. 

"Currently required testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as outlined in the testing protocol, is polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Testing frequency is based on the level of contact risk within each sport and is required for student-athletes, as well as coaches and staff depending upon exposure to the student-athletes. Sports that have a high risk of contact will have a minimum of two PCR surveillance tests per week during the competitive season. All other sports will have a minimum of one PCR surveillance test per week. Additional weekly testing requirements and alternative testing methods will be implemented and administered by the Conference or institutions this fall as sufficient data to support use develops," according to Big Ten medical protocols

“Our institutions are committed to taking the necessary measures to facilitate a safe return to campus for our students this fall,” said Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro. 

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have prioritized the health and safety of our students. Their welfare is paramount and remains at the forefront of all of our decisions. Today’s announcement, though subject to local, state and federal public health guidelines, provides a path forward for Big Ten student-athletes to return to competition based on comprehensive, conference-wide medical policies and protocols established by the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee. We will continue to evaluate the best available information and advice from public health officials as we make decisions and necessary adjustments going forward.”

The Big Ten also reassured that participation in fall sports is optional, and any athlete who chooses not to play will maintain their scholarships.

Further details on COVID-19 testing from the Big Ten Medical Protocols Executive Summary are listed below: 

1. Baseline: Testing prior to accessing athletic facilities upon initial arrival to campus is required.

2. Surveillance: Required testing frequency is based upon the level of contact risk within the sport, and is required for student-athletes, as well as any countable coaches and support staff member that is in regular, in-person close contact with student-athletes, as determined by the institution.

a. For sports with high contact risk, minimum weekly PCR surveillance is required during in-season practice periods and twice-weekly testing is required during competition periods.

b. For sports with intermediate contact risk and low contact risk, minimum weekly PCR surveillance is required during in-season and competition periods.

c. Repeat surveillance testing of someone who previously tested positive for the virus is not necessary for three months following the infection unless they develop symptoms of COVID-19 and no other source of infection is identified.

d. Additional weekly testing requirements and alternative testing methods will be implemented and administered by the conference or institutions as sufficient data to support use develops.

3. Pre-Competition: Testing for student-athletes, coaches and staff is required within three days of competition for sports with one game in a week (testing at a reasonable time Wednesday evening for a Saturday football game, for example) and within three days of the first of the week’s competition for other high-risk sports with multiple competitions in a week. This counts toward one of the required weekly surveillance tests.

a. Game officials for sports where 6 feet of physical distancing cannot be maintained must also be tested weekly.

b. Results of testing must be shared among the competing schools prior to game time.

c. Post-Competition — Per the Big Ten COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation Bulletin, for confirmed cases that arise after competition is completed, information is required to be shared with the previous week’s opponent, if applicable, to facilitate contact tracing at the opponent’s institution.

4. Out-of-Season: Decisions based on who and when to test can be left to the discretion of each institution. Out-of-season is defined as the timeframe outside of the NCAA playing and practice season for each sport.

5. Clinical: In addition to routine surveillance and pre-competition testing, if student-athletes or staff develop COVID-19 symptoms at any point, a clinical evaluation is required, which may include COVID-19 testing. If the individual was infected with COVID-19 within the last three months, testing for the virus should still be conducted if no other source of infection has been identified. If a student-athlete or staff becomes symptomatic between testing and competition, they should be isolated until repeat results are available.


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