Big Ten Conference universities and communities are ramping up to start the delayed football season this weekend.
According to the Chicago Tribune, mayors of 11 Big Ten cities tried to get ahead of issues Monday, signing a letter urging conference officials to be wary of community spread of COVID-19.
“During these unprecedented times, we must come together to share ideas, come up with creative solutions and make sure our communities stay safe and healthy,” reads the letter, which was posted in full by WLFI in West Lafayette, Ind., the home of Purdue. “We are at a pivotal moment in history, and protecting our community members should be, and is, our top priority. We are proud to have vibrant college sports programs in our communities. These programs help increase tourism and development, drive business revenues up and foster a sense of community far beyond the universities in which they are associated.
"With that being said, the COVID-19 crisis continues to present challenges in our communities. While we are all excited for football games to begin, we must accept that this activity poses potential new obstacles as we attempt to slow the spread of this virus.”
The letter was written by East Lansing, Mich., mayor Aaron Stephens, and signed by Lansing’s Andy Schor, Madison’s Satya Rhodes-Conway, College Park’s Patrick L. Wojahn, State College’s Ronald Filippelli, Ann Arbor’s Christopher Taylor, Evanston’s Steve Hagerty, West La Fayette’s John Dennis, Minneapolis’ Jacob Frey, Bloomington’s John Hamilton, Columbus’ Andrew Ginther and Iowa City’s Bruce Teague. The group says that the history of football games in their cities shows that they have the potential of spreading COVID-19.
"They generate a lot of activity, social gatherings and the consumption of alcohol,” the letter reads. “These activities within our communities have also been associated with an increased spread of COVID-19. We, as cities, continue to respond to issues as they arise, respective of the individual rules put in place within our regions. To help us slow the spread and be prepared for increased activity, we humbly request a few practical measures that the Big Ten Conference can take to ensure we have the tools we need to combat the spread of COVID-19: While you implement data-driven decisions based on test positivity and population positivity rates to hold games, practices and develop the meeting schedule, we request that these decisions are also made with defined metrics for overall community population positivity rates and test positivity.
“We support our public health officials in their efforts and urge you to consider their request. Please include the communities where you will be holding games in your conversations and assign a metric to this that is similar to what has already been laid out for your teams. We ask that you work with local and county health officials in these communities to define a population positivity rate, where hosting a football game that would bring increased activity into the community is no longer safe to do.”
The season begins when Wisconsin hosts Illinois on Friday night, while it will kick into high gear Saturday. The conference announced in August that it was canceling the season due to COVID-19, then reversed that decision last month.
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The Tribune reported that Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith says that the Big Ten won’t hand down fines to schools or coaches who don’t wear their masks properly during games.
“We will leave it up to the individual schools and game-operation staffs to manage their sidelines,” Smith said. “I think we’ll be fine. We’ll be sensitive to a moment where (Buckeyes coach) Ryan Day is in the middle of a call and has his mask down. We will have someone remind him.”
According to USA Today, Ohio State’s Saturday home game against Nebraska won’t include any fans while tailgating is banned outside Ohio Stadium, and marching bands and cheerleaders aren’t allowed. Smith estimates about 1,600 people will be in the stadium, including four relatives for each player.
Big Ten guidelines are allowing for a standard level of 70 decibels of crowd noise to be piped in. It can be raised to 85 decibels after a big play.
“We're really worried about the large gatherings and watch parties and tailgating that people will do,” Smith said. “Just be smart. Watch the game with people you know, people you know are negative (from COVID-19). Don't create these large super-spreaders.”