Big Ten postpones fall sports season due to COVID-19, hopes football can play in spring of 2021

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 01: Mohamed Ibrahim #24 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers rushes during the 2020 Outback Bowl against the Auburn Tigers at Raymond James Stadium on January 01, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

There won't be any college football, or several fall sports for that matter, in the Big Ten Conference this year.

League officials announced Tuesday the school's presidents have voted to postpone the fall sports season due to COVID-19 concerns. In addition to football, the decision affects men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

“It became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall. We know how significant the student-athlete experience can be in shaping the future of the talented young women and men who compete in the Big Ten Conference. Although that knowledge made this a painstaking decision, it did not make it difficult. While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point. Everyone associated with the Big Ten Conference and its member institutions is committed to getting everyone back to competition as soon as it is safe to do so," Comissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement.

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel wouldn't call Tuesday's decision a vote among league leaders. Rather, "a delberative process where we came to a decision together." She went so far as to call it an agonizing decision, even if it was the right one.

"I absolutely support the decision that we came to. Absolutely safety first, so we’re making our decisions based on the information that informs whether or not we are prepared to put those athletes on the field. That’s where we are today," Gabel said. "What we talked about was safety, and our desire and absolute commitment that safety is first. Until we have a better understanding, more complete medical information, that was what was driving our decision."

The move comes days after the Mid-American Conference announced it was postponing its football season. The MAC was the first FBS conference to do so. It also comes days after the Big Ten released a preliminary 10-game regular season starting Sept. 5 that had the Gophers opening the football season at Michigan State.

The Big Ten became the first Power 5 conference to postpone its football season, and other conferences are expected to follow. The Pac-12 also announed Tuesday it's postponing fall sports. There are now 53 FBS college programs that won't be playing football this fall.

“There is too much uncertainty now for us to go forward. This is a novel virus. It is spreading at an alarming rate… There are just too many uncertainties from a medical standpoint for us to go forward," Warren told Big Ten Network.

Warren did not say if the vote among the 14 Big Ten presidents to postpone the fall sports season was unanimous.

The decision is a crushing blow to the athletic department budgets for Big Ten schools. Earlier this year, Athletic Director Coyle told the U of M's Board of Regents the department would face up to a $75 million loss in revenue without football in the fall. The news is especially tough for the Gophers, with interest in the program at an all-time high after an 11-2 season, its best in 115 years, capped by a win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Coyle said Tuesday he met personally with the football, volleyball and soccer teams as the decision to postpone fall sports was being announced.

"The first thing I did was I thanked them because those kids have been back since early July, and they have done everything we’ve asked them to do. I wanted them to know how much we appreciate how they’ve handled themselves," Coyle said. "This is hitting the pause button. We’re collectively going through this together for the first time, and the only way we’re going to make this is if we all stay together and continue to represent this institution, this state in a first class manner. We’re going to get through this together and get on the other side of this deal as long as we do it the right way, and the safe and healthy way."

Just last week, Gophers star wide receiver Rashod Bateman announced he would opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic. Bateman, the reigning Big Ten Receiver of the Year and First Team All-Big Ten pick, has asthma and will begin training for the 2021 NFL Draft, where he's expected to be a first round pick.

The NCAA has also canceled fall championships in Division II and Division III due to COVID-19, and the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference recently canceled its fall sports season.