SALT LAKE CITY — In a move that could drastically change the landscape of college athletics for the rest of 2020, the Big Ten announced Thursday afternoon that all of its fall sports will move to conference-only schedules based on medical advice regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The affected sports include football, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country and field hockey.
Nobody outside of the Big Ten will be affected more by that schedule alteration than BYU’s football team. The Cougars, one of the few independent football teams in the FBS, have two Big Ten teams on their schedule, so the announcement would bring about a cancellation to a home game against Michigan State (Sept. 12) and a road game at Minnesota (Sept. 26).
If similar reports about the Pac-12 pan out, the BYU and Utah football teams will both have their seasons altered this fall.
Sean O’Connell, a SiriusXM sports talkshow host who covers the Pac-12 and used to work for ESPN700, first reported that Utah’s conference will follow the Big Ten’s lead and cancel its out-of-conference games.
If that turns out to be the case, the BYU-Utah rivalry game on Sept. 3 would not be played.
Pac 12 will announce conference-games only football schedule shortly after Big 10 announces the same. ORE-OSU and UW-MICH games lost.— Sean O'Connell (@realOCsports) July 9, 2020
The Athletic also reported that the Pac-12 will move to a conference-only football schedule, with an announcement expected in coming days. In addition, Stadium’s Brett McMurphy has reported that the ACC will be another league that adopts a conference-only schedule.
That might turn out to be a best-case scenario. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told reporters on a teleconference interview that he’s no longer “cautiously optimistic” that football will be played this fall, according to The Columbus Dispatch’s Joey Kaufman.
“I’m very concerned,” Smith said.
The OSU AD believes the college football world should brace for the worst.
“I can’t reiterate enough the fact that we might not play. We just might not,” Smith said during his interview on the Big Ten Network. “And I think that people need to understand that.”
The SEC and Big 12 are reportedly considering conference-only slates but have not decided yet, according to The Athletic and CBS Sports.
It’s uncertain what BYU would do to fill the potential five gaps in its 12-game schedule. Along with the two Big Ten teams and the Utes, the Cougars are also scheduled to play Pac-12 programs Arizona State (Sept. 19) and Stanford (Nov. 28).
The BYU Athletic Department released a statement about the situation on Thursday afternoon.
“The Big Ten’s announcement today obviously has specific ramifications regarding the 2020 BYU football schedule. As we navigate the uncertainties of the current pandemic, BYU will continue to have discussions with other universities and our stakeholders to make the best possible decision for our student-athletes and our athletic program.”
For the Utes, a Pac-12-only schedule would eliminate games against BYU, Montana State (Sept. 12) and Wyoming (Sept. 19). Utah’s first Pac-12 game is scheduled for Sept. 26 on the road against California.
The Big Ten cited “the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses” as being their No. 1 priority and primary reason for making the decision to trim games from their programs’ schedules.
“By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic,” the conference said via a statement.
“This decision was made following many thoughtful conversations over several months between the Big Ten council of presidents and chancellors, directors of athletics, conference office staff, and medical experts including the Big Ten task force for emerging infectious diseases and the Big Ten sports medicine committee.”
The Big Ten also said it will honor scholarships for student-athletes who choose to not participate in sports this fall because of the coronavirus situation.
Another independent football program, Notre Dame, might get assistance from the ACC to fill its schedule, which currently includes games against multiple Pac-12 and Big Ten teams, including Wisconsin, Stanford and, of course, football rival USC.
Some have speculated that Notre Dame might be a potential partner for BYU, as both teams are losing opponents off their schedules.