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Big Ten Postpones All Fall Sports

Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus

CHAMPAIGN – The Big Ten Conference announced Tuesday afternoon that it’s postponing all fall sports because of uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sports affected at the University of Illinois are football, volleyball, women’s soccer, and cross country. Field hockey and men’s soccer, which are not varsity sports at Illinois, are also affected by the Big Ten’s decision.

The Fighting Illini football team held its scheduled practice Tuesday morning before the Big Ten announcement.

After that practice, head coach Lovie Smith said he had discussed the possibility of a spring season with his players, and they had a lot of questions.

“How is my eligibility affected? If I’m a senior, we have a senior class, how does that affect me? If there’s a spring, is there…is it a full season?” Smith said.

In the announcement, the Big Ten said the decision from university presidents and chancellors was based on advice from the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.

“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,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren in the statement. “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.”

Smith said only one player, senior running back Ra’Von Bonner, had decided to opt out of playing the fall season. He said all other players wanted to play this fall.

Smith said he and athletic director Josh Whitman planned to follow the Big Ten’s guidance. University of Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said Monday that the Cornhuskers could pursue playing in a different conference this fall if the Big Ten canceled its season.

The full statement from the University of Illinois is below:

Champaign, ILL.– The Big Ten Conference announced today that the presidents and chancellors of the 14 member institutions have decided to postpone all fall sports, which includes the Fighting Illini football, volleyball, women’s soccer and cross country programs. The Big Ten Conference will continue to evaluate a number of options regarding these sports, including the possibility of competition in the spring.

“The discussions that led to the decision to postpone fall sports were as frank and honest as they were difficult,” Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones said. “We recognize the intense disappointment this will bring to our student-athletes, coaches, athletic staff and fans. But as important as collegiate athletic competition is to the Big Ten university experience, the health and safety of our students, staff, faculty and campus community must be our priority. There are just too many unknowns with COVID-19 today and the future continues to be just as unclear as it was months ago. We feel this decision offers the best way to maximize the safety of everyone involved. But that doesn’t make it any easier to hear for any of us who love sports.”

“My heart hurts for our student-athletes and coaches,” Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said. “Over these last months, countless people, including our student-athletes, coaches, sports medicine professionals, and so many other staff members have worked tirelessly to give our teams the best chance to compete this fall. Our people have done everything we have asked of them, which makes today’s decision so disappointing. The bar set here at the University of Illinois for testing and the return-to-play protocol is second-to-none, and I am proud of our progress.

“Unfortunately, despite best efforts on our campus and across the conference, the remaining unknowns and uncertainties stemming from COVID-19 ultimately proved insurmountable,” Whitman continued. “The health and safety of our student-athletes, staff, and our community must drive our decisions. We will support our student-athletes as they deal with the emotions stemming from today’s decision. We continue to work with the Big Ten on future plans as we move forward with returning our student-athletes to classes and training.”

Illinois Football Season Ticket Holders who have “opted in” for the 2020 season will continue to receive season tickets. Ticket related questions can be directed to illinitickets@illinois.edu, or by calling the Illinois Ticket Office at 866-ILLINI-1.

Brian Moline

Brian Moline

Brian Moline is the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom and host of Morning Edition for Illinois Public Media/WILL. He's been with WILL since 2015, after a long stint at WDWS-AM in Champaign where he covered both news and sports for more than a decade. If you have story or interview ideas, you can reach Brian at bmoline@illinois.edu.

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