Big Ten to play conference-only fall sports schedule in 2020

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 30: Rashod Bateman #13 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers catches the ball against the Wisconsin Badgers during the first quarter of the game at TCF Bank Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bateman s ((Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images))

The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday it's moving to a conference-only schedule for all fall sports for the 2020 season due to concerns related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The news comes after the Ivy League suspended all fall sports, and won’t have any athletic activities until at least Jan. 1, 2021, due to Covid-19 concerns. It means the University of Minnesota football team, and all other fall sports, will only play Big 10 opponents in the fall. The three non-conference 2020 football games against Florida Atlantic, Tennessee Tech and BYU, all of which would've been played at TCF Bank Stadium, are off.

The other fall sports impacted include men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

"By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic. This decision was made following many thoughtful conversations over several months between the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors, Directors of Athletics, Conference Office staff, and medical experts including the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee," Big Ten officials said in a statement.

Big Ten officials said Thursday all summer workouts remain voluntary, and student athletes who choose not to participate in summer workouts or opt out of the fall season due to Covid-19 concerns will still have their scholarships honored, and will remain in good standing with their teams.

Minnesota Athletic Director Mark Coyle released the following statement on Thursday.

"We are supportive of the Big Ten's decision to move to an all-conference schedule for all fall sports. We will continue to work with medical experts and Big Ten and campus leadership as we prepare for this transition. We clearly realize there are more questions than answers right now, but we will do our best to answer those appropriately when more information is available. We will also honor all student-athlete scholarships for the 2020-21 academic year if a student elects not to participate in athletics due to COVID-19 concerns," Coyle said.

The Gophers football team's current schedule has them hosting Iowa on Sept. 18, which would be Week 3 of the regular season. Their other current Big Ten home games are Michigan, Purdue and Northwestern. Their current conference road games are Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State and Nebraska.

Stay tuned, as there would have to be adjustments to the 2020 schedule. It could mean adding a game from an East Division opponent, or playing a rival twice.

Big Ten officials didn't rule out canceling the fall sports season altogether.

"As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate," officials said.

The Gophers are coming off an 11-2 season, the program's best in 115 years, that ended with a 31-24 win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl.