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Big Ten Football Moving to Conference-Only This Fall

Multiple sources are reporting that the Big Ten will be announcing a move to a conference-only season for all sports this fall, including football. If college football can be played at all, that is. A conference-only schedule should theoretically help by eliminating some long-distance travel and creating some standardization around testing for COVID-19.

This is second domino to fall in college athletics, after the Ivy League cancelled all fall sports entirely. There are certainly more dominos coming. Who knows if college sports are even possible this fall given that each school is making its own decision about how to, and whether to, bring students back. Unfortunately, the college football preview section of Football Outsiders Almanac 2020 is going to end up as a bit of an alternative history novel.

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16 comments, Last at 13 Jul 2020, 4:43pm

3 European soccer leagues are…

European soccer leagues are going full-tilt with no masks, no spectators (or very few, in some of the smaller leagues), and an absurdly high game cadence.

There is a set of protocols in place regarding testing - and isolation and re-testing in case players test positive. Games will not be postponed due to positive player tests.

In the Spanish league, no player has tested positive after competitive games resumed (some did test positive in the lead up).

The German league managed to finish out the remaining 9 rounds in 6 weeks, performing 25,000 covid-19 tests in the process (although that might include the 2nd division, I'm not sure).

The Italian league is also up and running again.

A bunch of leagues in smaller countries are also playing games - and not cancelling when somebody tests positive.


We'll see what the fallout is from this week in MLS action and what happens with the MLB and NBA, but it can most certainly be done.

I fully understand not putting student athletes at any risk what-so-ever! That's clearly different than the pros.

4 Two MLS teams, thus far,…

Two MLS teams, thus far, have ended their season, while the rest of the league is playing on.

I doubt that will fly in the NFL.  All it will take one team with a handful of positive cases, and the players will shut it down.

You cannot compare the logistics of the NFL with the other sports leagues you mention.  More players, more support staff, and it's highly unlikely they can or will play all games in a few host "bubbled" cities.

You also cannot compare sports playing in the U.S. with those playing in Canada or Europe -- or other places where the population took the disease seriously and got the pandemic under control.

5 The number of infections in…

The number of infections in the US is just so much higher than those countries and our recent/current responses to the pandemic seem to defy science that we are not at all comparable to those places. Look at the troubles that the MLS has, two teams having so many cases that they lacked enough players to compete and withdrew from the tournament.

7 It's stunning to me when…

It's stunning to me when sports fans can't grasp the difference between the US and Europe and what that implies. Italy and Spain were in far worse shape than the US back in March and April, yet here they are in July with their professional sports back and the virus basically under control. Meanwhile in the US, record levels of cases and in some areas deaths with many more to come, and almost no hope of meaningful professional sports this year. What's the difference, Europe took it seriously and did what the experts said, the US decided to own the libtards.

13 I still think they will hide…

I still think they will hide players behind "flu-like symptoms," or leg/hand injuries will suddenly become "harder to recover from/play through" than they have ever been in the modern era.

MLB has pretty directly admitted that they will use that method on injury reports.

As long as they have a means of high-risk coaches to work from home as much as possible, NFL might be able to pull it off.

We could see a lot of street free agents play this year in the event of mass team outbreaks.

14 In order to play a soccer…

In order to play a soccer match, you need 16 players per squad (11+ 6 subs), and about 10 coaches / training staff and a bus driver. 3 refs, and maybe a few more officials. 

Then you need broadcasting, stadium personnel and other staff to keep everything operational, but reports don't go past 500, some as low as 250.

In football. You have 53 players per squad. I legion of trainers / coaches and supporting and equipment staff. 5 refs and I dont know how many officials. You'd get to 250 if you only count team-related people.

Add broadcasting, catering, safety, and other operational staff and people who think they are important enough to be there and I'd guess you end up at double that of a soccer game.

16 There are clearly many more…

There are clearly many more people involved in a football game than a soccer game and that makes it harder, no question. But basketball is the opposite and I still wouldn't be surprised if it blows up. And baseball doesn't require much in the way of contact and only marginally more players and even that is showing signs it could blow up. Having 58 players test positive, a ridiculous positive-rate any way you look at it(although unclear exactly what is was, since the league only provides combined sample totals of all personnel).

Players need to act like professionals and do what they need to protect themselves - and thereby their profession. Thus far, it looks like they are acting like spoiled idiots who don't understand what's going on.

If players don't take things seriously and start taking precautions, there will be no baseball/basketball/football.

My point above was that it *can* be done. It can be done in countries where players don't earn enough money to insulate themselves and their family. Sure, the prevalence in the general population in these countries is lower than it is (now) in the US, but pro athletes don't need to have a lot of contact with the general population. If they were properly socially distancing, it's unlikely they would have such ridiculously high infection rates.

6 They should scale back…

They should scale back further, announce a preliminary plan of a divisional round robin with a conference championship game on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. Try to have the season begin on the third or fourth Saturday in September, and hope for positive news in the next 45 days. That's about all they can do, especially since the players aren't getting paid to take risks.

9 It significantly decreases…

It significantly decreases the amount of teams that Big 10 teams could have indirect contact with.  Michigan won't catch COVID-19 because they played Northern Illinois who played University of Arizona the week before and the University of Arizona had a large COVID outbreak.

10 Yeah, I guess it closes the…

Yeah, I guess it closes the circle a bit.  But it's still 1,000+ players and 100+ coaches just in the Big 12.


And now the Pac 12 just announced they are doing the same.


It's still hard for me to imagine college or pro football being played this year unless there is a significant decrease in the spread of the virus in this country.

11 Yeah, I don't really get it…

Yeah, I don't really get it either. It might (might) make some sense of the conferences were geographically isolated, but the Big Ten goes from Nebraska to New Jersey, the SEC goes from Missouri to Florida, the Pac-12 goes from Colorado to Washington via Arizona... I don't really see how cutting a handful of games from other places (some of which may actually be geographically closer, and/or have better local conditions, than conference members they do play) affects risk of transmission in any meaningful way, other than by simply reducing the number of games = contact events that occur.

Come to think of it, maybe that's the point - this is a "politically palateable" way to reduce the length of the season (and push back the starting date? I don't think they said anything officially, but non-conference play typically occupies the first few weeks...).

12 It also allows for the…

It also allows for the conferences to set uniform rules, with regards to how often players are tested and what you do when there's a positive test, and so on.  It's already tough enough to deal with without having to figure out if you're playing by the Big 10's rules or the SEC's rules on a given day.