The Big Ten is back.
The conference reversed its decision to postpone the football season to 2021 on Wednesday. Instead of starting in the spring, the Big Ten season will now start on Oct. 24. That start date will allow the conference’s teams to be eligible for the College Football Playoff.
How will the Big Ten do it? Here’s how the conference hopes the season will happen.
Big Ten teams will play nine games in nine weeks. An eight-game schedule for each team will be announced later this week, according to Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez. Each team will play six division games and two games against teams from the other division.
The conference standings are set after the eight games. The top teams in each division will play each other for the Big Ten title on Dec. 19. The teams below them in the standings will also play that day against the corresponding team in the other division. That means second place will play second place, third will play third and so on through seventh place in each division.
Alvarez did note that the Big Ten would potentially “take a look at” re-arranging some of the second-place through seventh-place games if any of them resulted in rematches from games earlier in the season.
The nine games mean each team will (hopefully) play the same number of conference games that it was originally scheduled to play before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the season. Teams are allowed to begin practicing as soon as possible to prepare for the season.
The nine-game schedule also means that the Big Ten’s top teams are set to end up with fewer games than their counterparts in the ACC (11), Big 12 (11) and SEC (10). If each of the four conferences are able to play their full seasons, the debate surrounding the playoff will be fascinating and fun. How would you rate a 9-0 team in the Big Ten against a 9-1 team in the ACC, Big 12 or SEC given the predominantly conference-only schedules?
Daily COVID-19 testing
The conference said that daily tests of all fall sports athletes would begin no later than Sept. 30. If a player tests positive for COVID-19, he or she will be unable to play for 21 days.
“All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI,” the Big Ten said. “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.”
“In addition to the medical protocols approved, the 14 Big Ten institutions will establish a cardiac registry in an effort to examine the effects on COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The registry and associated data will attempt to answer many of the unknowns regarding the cardiac manifestations in COVID-19 positive elite athletes.”
One of the biggest questions at the time the Big Ten postponed its season in August surrounded the potential for myocarditis in those who had contracted COVID-19. Myocarditis, the inflammation of the heart muscle, can lead to cardiac arrest if left untreated. A small Ohio State study of 26 COVID-19 positive athletes recently found that four had signs of myocarditis, though the study’s authors noted that “COVID-19-related myocardial injury in competitive athletes and sports participation remains unclear.”
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said that the conference would be paying for daily testing of all athletes.
Positivity rate formula
Teams will be allowed to compete based on a seven-day rolling average of its own positivity rate and the positivity rate of the everyone associated with the team. If both a team’s positivity rate is over five percent and the staff’s positivity rate is over 7.5 percent, then that team “must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved.”
That formula, coupled with the 21-day minimum for all COVID-19 positive athletes, makes it clear that the Big Ten is planning on daily testing and subsequent contact tracing to help quell intra-team outbreaks before they begin.
No public ticket sales
There will be limited numbers of fans in attendance at Big Ten games this fall. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said that no public ticket sales will happen in the conference, though family members of players would likely be allowed to attend.
“We are looking to see what we can do on a campus by campus basis to accommodate the families of our student-athletes both home and away,” Barbour said.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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