The Big 10 and College Football During Coronavirus

Mary Dooe
May 4, 2021

It goes without saying that a huge part of the college experience for many American students is not just the parties and the classes, but college sports - especially football.   This year, as universities and colleges grapple with the best ways to keep students safe, universities have adopted a wide range of plans when it comes to their football teams playing.   fans cheering at college football game  

The Big 10 announcement

Recently, the Big 10 football conference announced that it will begin games the weekend of October 23.   The Big 10 is the oldest Division I athletic conference in the country and includes schools like the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and Penn State University. Chancellors and presidents in the league voted unanimously to restart the season after previously deciding to put the football program on hold in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Safety precautions

The Big 10 will attempt to play eight games in just eight weeks due to the delayed start of the season - leading up to the conference championship game scheduled for December 19th. How will they make it work?   Leaders at the universities cited a number of factors that led to their decision, including increased testing abilities and screening protocols. Leaning heavily on data collection, the conference has stated that athletes and coaches in the league have access to daily coronavirus tests, and that procedures have been put in place for when tests come back positive.   According to a rating system, teams that start having too high a percentage of players and coaches test positive could risk having practices and games need to be put on hold. For example, a team with a Covid positivity rate of more than 5 percent, and the population's positivity rate goes about 7.5 percent, that team would need to pause all play for at least a week, until their data improves.   Players will also be subject to cardiac monitoring and will need to quarantine for 21 days if they've tested positive.  

Players and coaches testing positive for COVID

Outside of just the Big 10, players and coaches have been testing positive for COVID since the school year began.   Some schools, like Boston College, have remained relatively free of coronavirus. But other big-name schools - and coaches - haven't been so lucky.   Florida State's football coach Mike Norvell has begun isolating after testing positive. LSU's head coach recently went on the record to say that "most" of his team had the illness.   The need to quarantine can also put many players at risk of losing their edge, with at least 14 days out of practice making a big impact on their ability to thrive on the field.  

Other athletic conferences

Controversy remains as to whether resuming college football this year is the right thing to do for either the players, or the wider community.   Critics argue that the desire to make money - college football is a mutli-million dollar per year industry - shouldn't come before the safety of students and citizens. Others say that enhanced testing and safety protocols not only make players and coaches safer, but also provide valuable data to be shared with public health officials.   The Big 10 reversed a previous decision, but other football conferences never put their seasons on hold after the pandemic. The ACC and Big 12, among others, are still playing their seasons. The Pac 12 could still come up with a plan to play at least part of the season, according to sources.  

What game day could look like

Many fans - both attending school and those who graduated long ago - are excited at the idea that college football will be back this year despite the global pandemic. At many schools, that will mean smaller crowds - or totally empty stands. And as we head into colder weather, time will tell whether all of the planned games will truly go forward.   More >> Is Coronavirus changing college forever? Here are some ways the virus has positively changed the college experience.  

What's Pac 12 up to?

Update: The number of college football teams participating in the season continues to change on a day to day basis.   After mounting political pressure, the Pac 12 conference, which includes schools in states like  Arizona, California, and Oregon, has announced it will conduct a 7 game season for fall 2020.   Their season will resume the first week in November, and means the five biggest and most powerful college football conferences have made a comeback in the wake of the pandemic.