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Big Ten Votes to Kick Off Football Season in October

Paul Steinbach

Almost one month to the day removed from Big Ten Conference commissioner Kevin Warren declaring as final the league's decision to postpone fall sports, member presidents and chancellors have reversed course.

The conference website posted shortly after midnight that the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) voted unanimously to adopt significant medical protocols including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition, with the intent of kicking off a 2020 season the weekend of Oct. 23-24. The decision was based on information presented by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force, a working group that was established by the COP/C and Warren to ensure a collaborative and transparent process.

Related: Big Ten Commissioner: Decision to Cancel Fall is Final

The first of only two Power 5 conferences to cancel the fall football season back on Aug. 11, the Big Ten now appears to be adopting the nation's strictest protocols.

“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students," said Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro, chair of both the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and the Return to Competition Task Force Steering Committee. "The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference. We appreciate the conference’s dedication to developing the necessary safety procedures for our students and the communities that embrace them.”

According to the conference site, 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 (PCR) test to confirm the result of the POC test.

Each institution will designate a Chief Infection Officer (CInO) who will oversee the collection and reporting of data for the Big Ten Conference. Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition. 

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.
 
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.

“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, Head Team Physician, The Ohio State University and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee. 
 
“The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities.”

The Big Ten Conference will use data provided by each Chief Infection Officer (CInO) to make decisions about the continuation of practice and competition, as determined by team positivity rate and population positivity rate, based on a seven-day rolling average:

  • Team positivity rate (number of positive tests divided by total number of tests administered):
    • Green 0-2 percent
    • Orange 2-5 percent
    • Red >5 percent
  • Population positivity rate (number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk):
    • Green 0-3.5 percent
    • Orange 3.5-7.5 percent
    • Red >7.5 percent

Decisions to alter or halt practice and competition will be based on the following scenarios:

  • Green/Green and Green/Orange: Team continues with normal practice and competition.
  • Orange/Orange and Orange/Red: Team must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention (alter practice and meeting schedule, consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition).
  • Red/Red: Team must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved.

The daily testing will begin by Sept. 30. Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel, citing sources inside the conference, reported the eight-game, eight-week season will start with only family members in attendance and culminate in a championship game Dec. 19. In addition, West and East division teams not playing for the championship will play a ninth game, as well. 

“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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