Amid reports of a new danger to college athletes from the coronavirus, the Big Ten Conference officially postponed the 2020 football and fall sports seasons for Ohio State, Indiana and other members Tuesday while saying it would consider moving them to the spring of 2021.
In a statement, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren cited "uncertainty regarding potential medical risks" of playing this fall - despite public pleas from many players and coaches and even President Trump.
Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith and President-Elect Kristina Johnson said they were in favor of delaying the season but not postponing it to the spring.
"I wish we would have had a little more time to evaluate,” Smith told Big Ten Network. "But we certainly understand that this was the time we had to pull the plug."
"We're disappointed, we really are...But we certainly understand that this was the time that we had to pull the plug." - @OSU_AD Gene Smith reacted to the postponement of 2020 fall sports: pic.twitter.com/DxEjHyiVlj— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) August 11, 2020
Only Nebraska and Iowa had voted to play this fall in a weekend meeting of Big Ten presidents and chancellors, according to unconfirmed reports. Johnson told Cleveland.com she did not take part in that vote.
Nebraska reacted angrily.
“We are very disappointed in the decision by the Big Ten Conference to postpone the fall football season, as we have been and continue to be ready to play,” Nebraska leadership said in a statement.
Warren said it was a decision that had to be made to protect players.
"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,” Warren said. “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."
Troubling recent reports about COVID-related myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) found in Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney and at least four other Big Ten athletes have raised additional concerns about an illness first thought to pose little danger to young adults and teens.
At least six Big Ten football players have broken from the ranks since last weekend and opted out of playing - another factor that may have given pause to Big Ten leaders.
Across the country, fans were wondering if the Big Ten’s decision could have a domino effect that ultimately wipes out the fall football season among the Power 5 conferences, if not across the whole college football landscape.
Indeed, a few hours later, the Pac-12 followed the Big Ten’s lead while going further and delaying basketball until Jan. 1. But reports say the SEC and ACC are still in for fall sports and have been encouraging the Big 12 to hold its ground.
The Southeastern Conference's medical advisory group gave that conference's presidents the green light to prepare for football this fall, according to commissioner Greg Sankey.
"Our medical advisory group has said, 'Yes, we can continue to go forward,'" Sankey said on "The Dan Patrick Show" on Tuesday. "Should that advice change, that would certainly be a stopping point, but the indicators are we can continue to do what we're doing."
Outside the Power 5, the American Athletic Conference (which includes Cincinnati), Conference USA and Sun Belt made no immediate moves.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the Big Ten's announcement was a disappointment to many.
"As a football fan, that certainly is not good news," DeWine said during his COVID-`19 news briefing. "Ultimately, this is a decision that has to be made by the schools. They weigh many things, and I’m sure they start off with the safety of their players.
"I think it’s a disappointment for Buckeye Nation. Probably more importantly, it’s a disappointment for the young men who play football who are at Ohio State. As a fan, I’m disappointed, but this is a decision that was made by the Big Ten, that was made by the schools, and we have to respect that decision."
The Big Ten's multi-million dollar decision didn’t come lightly, since football is the cash cow for many of its 14 universities and helps pay the bills for the rest of the athletic programs.
Wisconsin has estimated $100 million in losses with no football at all. Michigan said it could be in the red more than that. The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, normally distributes about $50 million per year to its members.
“We do have a reserve that will take us so far, but we’re going to have to have some layoffs,” Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said. “There will be some of our units that won’t be working. Those are things we have a plan for. Those are very difficult decisions to make.”
In addition, some top football recruits have already decommitted from Big Ten schools.
Players around the country were stunned. Many had recently taken to social media with the hashtag #WeWanttoPlay. Ohio State star quarterback Justin Fields was among those trying to present a unified front and save their season.
After the announcement, Fields simply posted to Twitter: “smh,” short for shaking my head.
The Big Ten action also applies to men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball, the statement said.
"The Big Ten Conference will continue to evaluate a number of options regarding these sports, including the possibility of competition in the spring," it said. "Decisions regarding winter and spring sports will also continue to be evaluated."
Warren said the Big Ten is "committed to getting everyone back to competition as soon as it is safe to do so."
The Big Ten became the first major conference to cancel fall sports, following the Mid-American Conference (including Miami University) and Mountain West of the FBS, the Pioneer Football League in the FCS and North Coast Athletic Conference in Division III.
Those small conferences don’t have the revenue, reach and history of the Big Ten, which seemed positioned to pour resources into trying to protect their athletes from getting and spreading COVID-19.
The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.
The expanded Big Ten now spans from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.