What We Know Regarding The Elimination of Non-Conference Games

Eric Rutter

Earlier today, the Big Ten Conference announced that if the 14 schools are able to participate in athletics this fall, the season would be comprised of only in-conference opponents. For Michigan football, this quickly takes the road contest against Washington (September 5), home game against Ball State (September 12) and home match up against Arkansas State (September 19) off the table.

In the aftermath of the scheduling news, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren participated in a teleconference with the Big Ten Network to discuss the bevy of changes that were announced on Thursday. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith was on immediately after Warren to provide his perspective on the entire situation. Here is what was learned from the tandem teleconferences:

Acting swiftly will help each Big Ten school meet the new guidelines

“This allows us to be able to take another step with this entire process,” Warren said. “I mean, this is a complicated time, a complicated world that we are living in with the COVID-19 pandemic, so what we are doing is relying on the expert advice of medical advisors. We have our Big Ten Emerging Infectious Diseases committee and also all of our other Big Ten doctors and trainers. So, we made a vow early on that first and foremost, we would put the health, the safety and the wellness of our student athletes at the center of all of our decisions, so we felt that this was an appropriate time to make the announcement.”

Conducting testing and sharing results will be streamlined

“When you make these decisions, you have just have to look at all of the issues,” Warren said. “One of the things that was most important to us was the flexibility of the scheduling all the operations. It's much easier if we're just working with out Big Ten institutions from a scheduling standpoint, from a traveling standpoint and all of those issues that go into having our student athletes compete.”

The schedule change does not guarantee that a season will be played

“I think people need to start understanding we may not play this season,” Warren said. “We just may not. That's a reality. I know people don't want to hear that, but we just may not play.”

Scholarships will be honored if student athletes choose to sit out

“The other big thing is that nay of our Big Ten student athletes who have decided not to participate in student athletics this year based upon the COVID-19 that we are honoring their scholarship 100%, so their status on the team will not be impacted at all in a negative manner,” Warren said. “They have their flexibility, and we just want to make sure that we do everything we possibly can.”

Figuring out scheduling arrangements is the next task

“This is really where the work begins to make sure we get safe protocols finalized, to make sure we get all of our medical and operational procedures finalized, but then also start working with our network partners. Then like you just alluded to, from a scheduling standpoint to start working on various scenarios that will work. So, over the next week or so, we will work through all of the scheduling issues that we will have to deal with to make sure we are always doing the best we possibly can to keep our student athletes healthy and safe but also to provide some Big Ten football in the fall to our fans.”

Decluttering the early season schedule allows time for adjustment

“I think opening up September was huge for us. Having a chance to move conference games into September, having a chance to have the control from a conference point of view to be able to manage disruptions,” Smith said. “We don't know what's ahead of us. We could have a contest that needs to be canceled because a certain environment has a spike, then we can adjust. When you play in non-conference games, that's difficult to do. It opened up the opportunity for us to play in September. It opened up the opportunity to possibly have a conference champion. I know everyone wants to talk about the CFP and bowl games and things of that nature, and that's important, but at the end of the day we need to make sure that we put the conference champion on a pedestal years like it used to be years ago and try and make sure that we provide that opportunity for our student athletes.”

My take: Now, the 'if' regarding athletics in the fall is still a large 'if,' but this move streamlines the process for Michigan and the Big Ten to operate in light of the COVD-19 pandemic. In light of the news, the Big Ten conference can implement and operate within specific guidelines of health and safety for each student athlete within the conference's footprint. Communication will be paramount when shares coronavirus testing results and establishing new procedures in real time, so reducing the amount of outside schools to consult may be an advantage. This move also opens up much of September for scheduling alterations among Big Ten programs.

What do you think of the Big Ten's decision to eliminate non-conference games as part of the fall sports season? Will Michigan end up playing football in 2020? Let us know! 

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