CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A letter sent by the Big Ten Conference office to all of the school’s athletics directors suggests a decision on fall preseason football camps is within days.
According to the letter, which Illini Now/Sports Illustrated obtained a copy Friday morning, sent by league commissioner Kevin Warren and Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chairman of the Big Ten task force for emerging infectious diseases, on Thursday, the dates and protocols for preseason football camps for the 14 league schools will be made by next week and possibly as soon as Monday, Aug. 3.
“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 reads. “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. We anticipate making that decision within the next 5 days.”
University of Illinois officials confirmed to Illini Now/Sports Illustrated this week that the Illini will not have a game scheduled for Week 0, the weekend of Saturday, Aug. 29. Earlier this week the NCAA has approved a blanket waiver to allow college football teams to schedule games on Week 0 as needed amid the coronavirus pandemic and teams planning to play on that Aug. 29 weekend would be able to start fall camp tomorrow.
The Big Ten Conference, Pac-12 Conference and Southeastern Conference have already announced that they will play conference-only football schedules in 2020.
The letter sent to all 14 school’s athletics directors also continues the Big Ten’s refrain that circumstances throughout the country may not be medically safe to have fall sports, including football, due to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.
“If we determine as a Conference that it is not prudent to compete in the fall of 2020, we will not do so, much like our decision in March 2020 to cancel the Men’s Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis,” the letter reads. “Our final decision will be rooted in guidance from medical experts and in consultation with institutional leadership, student-athletes, coaches and appropriate federal, state, and local authorities.”
The release date of an official revised version of a Big Ten football schedule is still to be determined but Chicago Tribune reporter Teddy Greenstein confirmed from an unidentified source that the conference office is expecting a tentative schedule by as late as next week. Greenstein also added league officials still want a season featuring nine or ten games and added the plan is to start the season on Sept. 5 as previously scheduled, "with three to five open dates to allow for the possibility of teams having to quarantine for ten days or more."
The SEC announced Thursday it will start its 10-game all-conference football season on Sept. 26 and play only conference games but failed to release an official schedule of games.
The last time Illinois opened a football season with a conference game was Aug. 31, 1996 when the Illini played at then-No. 12 Michigan due to the league officials working with ABC/ESPN for a season-opening television matchup. The Wolverines won 20-8 over an Illinois team that would finish the 1996 campaign with a 2-9 record in what would be the last season for Illinois head coach Lou Tepper.
The Big Ten Conference letter to school athletics directors finally states that all fall sport schedules should be finalized and announced this coming month.
“While we remain hopeful for a start in September 2020, flexibility has been created within our scheduling models to accommodate necessary adjustments,” the letter states. “Consistent with our collective need to be adaptable to changes in circumstances and evolving medical knowledge, even issuing a schedule does not guarantee that competition will occur.”