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Silent stadiums: Big 10 cancels fall sports season UPDATED

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

The Brillion News &

Center Square News Service

ROSEMONT, Ill. – The Big Ten Conference announced the postponement of the 2020-21 fall sports season, including all regular-season contests and Big Ten Championships and Tournaments, due to ongoing health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The official word was delivered in a press release issued at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, August 11.

In making its decision, which the conference said was based on multiple factors, the Big Ten relied on the medical advice and counsel of the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.

“Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff,” said Morton Schapiro, Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University President.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall."

The fall sports included in this announcement are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball. The Big Ten Conference will continue to evaluate a number of options regarding these sports, including the possibility of competition in the spring. Decisions regarding winter and spring sports will also continue to be evaluated. 

The University of Wisconsin-Madison said it was disappointed that the fall conference seasons are wiped out: "As the Big Ten statement indicates, sports are simply different from other campus activities. There is no way to preserve physical distancing during competition, and masking can make competition very difficult. There are also a variety of unknowns about the interaction of COVID-19 with extreme physical exertion. As a result, playing the fall season would pose risks that we think are not acceptable for our student-athletes and our athletic staff." The UW athletic department said the conference decision would have a major financial impact on it and many businesses and people in the Madison area who rely on Badger events to support their livelihoods.

"Today's decision affects fall sports only, and we are still hopeful that we can find a path forward so that their seasons can be played in spring 2021," the UW Athletic Department statement said. "There are many obstacles to overcome for this to happen, but we will begin planning in case that is possible. At this point, no decisions have been made regarding winter sports."

Nebraska to play anyway

The University of Nebraska, a Big 10 Conference member, indicated that it would consider playing a non-conference football schedule this fall, playing willing opponents. Coach Scott Frost on Monday, the day before the Big 10 announcement that the Cornhuskers are committed to playing football in 2020,

The university's Board of Regents is also reported as supporting fall football, regardless of the Big 10's decision to "postpone" the season.

Brigham Young and Notre Dame are among the D1 universities looking for football games this fall.

Big bucks on the line UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez wrote an open letter to fans in July to explain that the University of Wisconsin stands to lose $100 million without football. 

"Regardless of what our fall season looks like, we are facing a great financial challenge. I don't think it's an embellishment to say the experience we love as Badgers and the legacy of our extraordinary athletic department is at risk," Alvarez wrote. 

Football at the University of Wisconsin and other major universities is big business. 

A report in Forbes last year ranked UW as the 23rd most valuable football program in America. The Forbes list put the three-year average for revenue from Badger football at $86 million a year, and put profits for the same time frame at $46 million. 

College football, along with men's basketball, not only pay for their own programs, many college sports reporters have noted for years, those programs pay for almost all of a university's other sports as well. 

Alvarez wrote in his letter that losing football could mean losing other sports and programs as well. 

"We will have two choices: remain at the head of the class or fall behind. Everything we pride ourselves on – competing at the highest level, developing world-class student-athletes and raising trophies – relies on our ability to financially support our student-athletes," Alvarez said. 

The $100 million loss is just related to UW Football. The university itself is looking at a $160 million loss from losing a semester of students on campus last spring. 

And then there is the loss to the city of Madison. 

The Milwaukee Business Journal reported that each Badger home game is worth $16 million to the state's economy. Football, as a sport, is responsible for nearly $114 million alone. Overall, UW Athletics have a $610 million economic impact on the state of Wisconsin. Much of that is in Madison where fans flock to watch games, go to bars, eat in restaurants, and stay in hotels. 

~ Benjamin Yount of Center Square contributed significantly to this report by looking at the economic impact of the loss of football at the UW.


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