The Big Ten Conference, and college football in general, is grappling with one of life’s most challenging conundrums: how to plan for the unknown.
With the Gophers and other Big Ten teams waiting for a new schedule announcement, the conference is taking its time to carefully study the pandemic, even as other Power Five leagues plowed forward this week.
The Southeastern Conference will start its 10-game conference season Sept. 26, as will the Pacific-12, which plans to open camp Aug. 17. The Atlantic Coast Conference’s first games will take place the week of Sept. 7, starting a schedule of 10 conference games and one nonconference game.
Instead of a schedule, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren sent a letter to the conference’s 14 athletic directors this week, stating how a decision on when to start preseason could come within five days. Training camp is currently scheduled to start Aug. 7.
“We will not, and cannot, proceed with preseason camp until we are certain that we can do so safely, and that will depend, in part, on testing,” the letter read. “Once we have everything in place to execute our testing protocols effectively, including the appropriate number of tests secured for all fall sports, we can make a decision as to whether preseason camp will begin as currently scheduled.”
A Gophers athletic department spokesman said Friday the football team had no set start date for training camp and is instead waiting for the conference’s recommendation.
The athletic department is also due to announce its latest round of COVID-19 test results for its student-athletes, something it planned to do at the end of every month. On June 30, the department announced seven had tested positive of 170 administered tests for those from the football, volleyball, soccer and basketball teams who returned in June for voluntary workouts.
The Big Ten previously announced playing a conference-only schedule for fall sports, the first Power Five league to make that decision earlier this month. But how that affects the schedules is another to-be-determined situation.
“Scheduling for fall sports remains fluid,” the letter read. “… Many options are under consideration within each sport, and we expect these updated schedules to be released in August 2020. While we remain hopeful for a start in September 2020, flexibility has been created within our scheduling models to accommodate necessary adjustments.”
The Gophers were to begin the season Sept. 3 vs. Florida Atlantic. Without nonconference games, their first game as currently scheduled would be Sept. 18 vs. Iowa before another open week. They would then play conference games Oct. 3 to Nov. 7, have a bye week, and finish the final two weekends in November.
But that could all change. The Chicago Tribune reported a potential 10-game conference season, up from the current nine, starting Sept. 5. The conference could either add a fourth interdivision game or redo every team’s schedule according to geography.
That would allow for three to five open dates that grant flexibility for rescheduling, should a team need to quarantine for 10-14 days. The conference is also front-loading the schedules with divisional games since those typically need shorter travel and would have less risk of exposure to coronavirus, per the report.
But the Big Ten’s letter added a fairly ominous proclamation that “even issuing a schedule,” whenever it does, will not “guarantee that competition will occur.”
“If we determine as a conference that it is not prudent to compete in the fall of 2020,” the letter read, “we will not do so.”