Football is back at the Big Ten. After postponing the season in August because of safety concerns stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, the league said Wednesday it plans to start games the weekend of Oct. 23-24.
The Big Ten will require student-athletes, coaches, trainers, and others who are on the field for practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing, according to a statement. Each school will also have a chief infection officer oversee the collection and reporting of data. The plan was put together by the Big Ten’s Return to Competition Task Force.
“Our focus with the task force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love.”
All Covid-19 positive student-athletes in the Big Ten will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing, the league said. In addition, the 14 Big Ten institutions will establish a cardiac registry to examine the effects on Covid-19 positive student-athletes.
The Big Ten joins the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference in playing football during the fall term, leaving the Pac-12 as the only Power Five league sitting out. The Big 12 and Pac-12 have paired with Quidel Corp., which said it has created an antigen test that could produce results in 15 minutes. The University of Nebraska recently acquired 1,200 Quidel test kits.
“We are hopeful that our new daily testing capability can help satisfy public health official approvals in California and Oregon to begin contact practice and competition,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement.
On Tuesday, football players from the University of Southern California, a Pac-12 school, posted a letter on Twitter urging California Governor Gavin Newsom to lift restrictions that prevent the league from playing in the state.
The about-face at the Big Ten comes after coaches, politicians, players and parents lobbied conference officials to reconsider, saying safety measures could be taken to combat the spread of the coronavirus. While that pressure may have helped, the improvement in testing capabilities ultimately swayed leadership.
Several Big Ten schools were poised to lose about $100 million each this year if the season wasn’t played.
The conference is the highest-earning in the country, with fiscal 2019 revenue of $781.5 million, according to an analysis by USA Today. Most of that money is generated by football and men’s basketball, which typically subsidize the rest of the athletic departments’ budgets.
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