Big Ten remains 'hopeful' but 'cannot guarantee' sports will be played this fall

The Big Ten will announce its coronavirus testing protocols and make a decision on whether preseason sports camps can start by early next week, according to a letter sent by league commissioner Kevin Warren to the Big Ten's 14 athletic directors.

Dr. Chris Kratochvil, chair of the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Research at UNMC, is also a co-author of the letter.

The letter says conference-only scheduling for all fall sports — football, volleyball, soccer, cross country and field hockey — remains "fluid" and will be announced at some point in August. The letter also accounts for the possibility that fall sports won't be played at all across the 14 campuses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"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 Big Ten won't proceed with the start of preseason camps — football is slated to begin Aug. 7, with volleyball and soccer typically starting earlier in that week — until it believes it is safe to do so. Two football programs, Michigan State and Rutgers, are currently undergoing a 14-day quarantine and stoppage in practice because of positive case outbreaks among team members.

"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," the letter said. "We anticipate making that decision within the next five days."

Nebraska's elaborate testing and safety protocols were forged in collaboration with UNMC. According to NU women's basketball player Kate Cain, the school is asking athletes to fill out a questionnaire each day about symptoms before getting their temperatures taken as they enter NU facilities. While coaches have been wearing masks at practice, players have not.

The NU football team began its no-pads, no-helmet practices last week for the NCAA-allowed mini-camp structure that runs through Aug. 6. In the brief videos released by Husker football, players appear to be practicing without masks, but are seen wearing masks entering the football facility. No coaches or players have been made available for interviews with media.

The league has yet to announce schedules for any of its sports, though Big Ten play for soccer and volleyball typically begins in mid-September. In an interview with The World-Herald, NU women's soccer coach John Walker expected a similar start in 2020, which would allow teams to have a longer training camp in preparation.

Big Ten football has originally been scheduled to start Sept. 5 — when Nebraska is slated to host Purdue — but the league has yet to unveil its conference-only schedule matrix. Only the ACC, among the Power Five conferences, has done so.

Warren and Kratochvil's letter says league officials are "hopeful" for play this fall but "cannot guarantee that will happen."

"We can assure you that we will be informed by guidance from our esteemed medical experts and will do our best to keep you all informed in the face of rapidly changing circumstances," the letter says.

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