The Big Ten Conference announced today that the football season will resume the weekend of Oct. 23 and 24. Each team will play eight regular season games in eight weeks, with the Championship game slated for Dec. 19. That day, there will be extra cross-division games between each program.
The two divisions are West and East, with Rutgers being in the East. The schedule is being designed for the season to be completed before the College Football Playoff Selection Day on Dec. 20. The final schedule will be released in a few days, said Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez.
This decision comes just a few weeks after the conference postponed all fall sports on Aug. 11 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The chancellors and presidents voted 11-3 in favor of canceling the football season, with Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State the only universities voting to continue play.
"Following the postponement, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren formed a return to competition task force, which this past weekend presented to the presidents and chancellors and reviewed daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and a data-driven approach to make decisions about practices and competition," according to ESPN.
The Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force was created amid public pressure from coaches, parents and even President Donald J. Trump. Trump recently had a meeting with Warren, lobbying for a return to play. In a press release, the conference detailed its new safety procedures to halt the spread of the virus.
"The Big Ten will require student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing. Test results must be completed and recorded prior to each practice or game. Student-athletes who test positive for the coronavirus through point of contact (POC) daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction test to confirm the result of the POC test," according to the release.
"All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI. Following cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis," according to the release
Each school will employ a chief infection officer to monitor test results on a daily basis. The testing data will be organized as follows:
One of the data points they will be measuring is called the team positivity rate. This is the number of positive tests divided by the total number of tests administered. A green positivity rate means no more than two percent of the team has contracted the virus, an orange rate means two to five percent of the team tested positive and a red rate means greater than five percent.
The other data point they will measure is the population positivity rate, which is the number of positive individuals divided by the total population at risk. For this measurement, they determined that the green level is no more than three-and-a-half percent of people testing positive, the orange is from three-and-a-half percent to seven-and-a-half percent and red is more than seven-and-a-half percent.
If the team records green levels for both tests, or green for the first and orange for the second, then they can proceed with their normal schedule of practices and games. If they record orange levels for both or orange and red in that order, they must alter their practice schedule and consider not playing in the next game. If they have red levels for both, they must stop all activities for at least a week and wait until the situation improves. The daily testing will begin Sept. 30.
Several individuals around the conference expressed gratitude for this new development. Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh said, "Great news today. Over the past month, I could sense the anticipation from our players and coaches, and I'm thrilled on their behalf that they will have a chance to play a 2020 season. Stay positive. Test negative. Let's play football."
While a schedule is being put into place, this does not guarantee that the season will continue uninterrupted. That will depend on how well each university contains the virus every day, with each practice and game. It remains to be seen whether the new protocols will be effective in this regard, but it appears that the Task Force's work has paid off for the time being.
"Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes," Warren said. "Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love. 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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