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Big Ten scraps nonconference games for football, other fall sports due to pandemic

Pac-12 reportedly to follow suit; UH has three opponents from conference

The Associated Press

The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday it will not play nonconference games in football and several other sports this fall, the most dramatic move yet by a power conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The conference cited medical advice in making its decision and added ominously that the plan would be applied only “if the conference is able to participate in fall sports.”

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said it was “much easier if we’re just working with our Big Ten institutions” in terms of things like scheduling and traveling.

“We may not have sports in the fall,” Warren told the Big Ten Network. “We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten.

“So we just wanted to make sure that this was the next logical step to always rely on our medical experts to keep our student-athletes at the center of all of our decisions and make sure that they are as healthy as they possibly can be from a mental, a physical, an emotional health and wellness standpoint.”

The other big conferences — the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 — have all indicated they intend to play fall sports. However, the Pac-12 is expected to follow the Big Ten in eliminating nonconference competition, The Athletic reported, citing “multiple industry insiders.”

That would be disasterous for the University of Hawaii football team, which is scheduled to face three Pac-12 teams this season: Arizona (Aug. 29), UCLA (Sept. 5) and Oregon (Sept. 19).

The Rainbow Warriors have already lost one opponent for 2020 — Fordham confirmed earlier this week that it was canceling its game at Aloha Stadium scheduled for Sept. 12. If the Pac-12 games also fall through, and no replacement opponents can be found, UH’s opener wouldn’t be until Oct. 3 at home against Mountain West foe Nevada.

There has been deep unease that the pandemic will deal a blow to fall sports after wiping out hundreds of games, including March Madness, this past spring. More than a dozen schools have reported positive tests for the virus among athletes in the past month, but the bad news picked up this week as the Ivy League canceled all fall sports and Stanford announced it was cutting 11 varsity sports.

The Big Ten decision is the biggest yet because Bowl Subdivision football games — more than 40 of them, all moneymakers in different ways — were simply erased. And the move didn’t wash away fears the entire fall season could be in jeopardy.

“I am really concerned, that is the question of the day,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said on a conference call after the announcement. “I was cautiously optimistic. I’m not even there now.”

Besides football, the sports affected include cross country, field hockey, soccer and women’s volleyball.

“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 Big Ten said.

The marquee nonconference matchups in the Big Ten this season included Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field. Other big matchups included Michigan at Washington, Ohio State-Oregon, Penn State-Virginia Tech and Miami-Michigan State.

Much of the pain will be felt at smaller schools that lean heavily on the big-money games to help fund their athletic budgets. Hours before the Big Ten announcement, Northern Iowa, which will lose a Sept. 5 game at Iowa, said it expected an athletics budget shortfall to exceed $1 million.

* The Maui News contributed to this story.

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