The alliance of 14 universities, representing some of the nation's most prestigious schools and storied football programs, will be back on the football field the weekend of Oct. 23-24, the league announced.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 16, 2020
"The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) adopted significant medical protocols and has voted unanimously to resume the football season starting the weekend of October 23-24, 2020," according to conference statement.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren defended the league's 180-degree turn, saying that conditions — specifically, rapid testing technology — had changed.
"This is a fluid situation, and we always wanted to make sure we put the health and safety of our student athletes at the forefront," Warren told reporters.
"We need to adapt. The world that we live in today ... we need to be able to adapt, and based upon the standards that were set by our chancellors and presidents from day one is that we need to make sure we create an environment that will allow for our student athletes to participate in intercollegiate athletics in a healthy and safe environment."
Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro said Big Ten leaders were uniform in their decision to move forward with fall football.
"The medical advice I relied on when I voted five weeks ago said there was virtually no chance" to safely play football in 2020, Schapiro said. "The facts change, our minds changed."
New protocols will include daily testing for players and team staff starting on Sept. 30, and each university is to appoint an infection officer to oversee testing. Other safety measures are to include:
Any player who tests positive for the coronavirus will be sidelined for 21 days.
Players who test positive must also "undergo comprehensive cardiac testing" before getting back on the field.
If a team's positive-test rate tops 5 percent, all of its practices and games will stop for at least seven days.
"What we’re putting forward still requires prevention; it requires accountability from everyone involved … to be doing the things to prevent getting this infection," said Dr. Jim Borchers, head team physician at Ohio State and co-chair of Big Ten's Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee. "Our progress will be measured by their efforts."
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) August 11, 2020
The conference said Aug. 11 that it was too risky to play with America still struggling to contain the virus that's killed nearly 200,000 Americans. The plan was to stage an unprecedented spring football season, if the virus was under control.
And in recent days, proponents of fall football argued that improvements in rapid coronavirus testing could answer concerns cited in last month's Big Ten announcement to postpone pigskin action and all other fall sports.
The pressure to strap on helmets this fall has grown in recent weeks, as three other prominent college football conferences went forward with shortened seasons. Schools of the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conferences have already played games in front of limited crowds, and the powerful Southeastern Conference kicks off on Sept. 26.
The Big Ten's reversal troubled some epidemiologists and pubic health experts who said that, despite better and more rapid testing, the virus is still a threat.
"I have a lot of concerns. I actually think the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West got it right the first time," Diekema told NBC News on Wednesday afternoon, hours after the Big Ten announcement.
"I don't thing anything has changed from the pandemic side that would make it safer."
The new Big Ten football schedule will be released later this week, Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Lee Alvarez said.
Each team will play eight scheduled games before the final weekend, when the first-place team of the West Division will play the top side of the East Division for the conference championship.
Also on that last weekend, the two second-place teams will face off, the third-place teams will play each other, and so on, thus providing each school with nine games.
"Very unique champions week," said Alvarez, also a former Badgers football coach. "It gives everyone an opportunity to play nine games."
This season's Big Ten football contests will not be open to fans from the general public, though some family members could be allowed inside, Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said.
Notre Dame, which is not in the Big Ten but plays home games in South Bend, Indiana, the same Midwest region as most of the conference's teams, opened its season this past Saturday playing in front of a limited crowd of 10,097.
But Iowa State — a member of the Big 12 Conference, unlike its instate rival Iowa of the Big Ten — also opened the season this past Saturday with no fans inside.
"We are looking to see what we can do on a campus-by-campus basis to accommodate the families of our student-athletes both home and away, as well as the families of staff," Barbour told reporters in a conference call.
“But, as a conference, we’ve made a decision, no public sale of tickets.”
The conference's announcement about football did not cover potential starting dates for any other fall sport postponed due to coronavirus concerns. When those sports do return, athletes will have to submit to daily testing, the Big Ten said Wednesday.
"Eventually all Big Ten sports will require testing protocols before they can resume competition," the conference said.
"Updates regarding fall sports other than football, as well as winter sports that begin in the fall including men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and wrestling, will be announced shortly."
The Big Ten's about-face leaves the Pacific-12 Conference as the lone Power 5 league not yet committed to fall football, though Pac-12 officials have hinted that advancements in rapid testing could bring the sport back sooner rather than later.
But six of the conference's schools are in Oregon and California, where full contact practice isn't even allowed yet due to emergency health codes, the league said.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott also said in a statement on Wednesday that the region has other more pressing issues to address, such as the wildfires.
"We are hopeful that our new daily testing capability can help satisfy public health official approvals in California and Oregon to begin contact practice and competition," Scott said.
"We are equally closely monitoring the devastating fires and air quality in our region at this time. We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public health authority approvals."
The new Big Ten schedule, with a Dec. 19 title game, also appears to make the league eligible for college football's postseason.
The sport's top level, the Football Bowl Subdivision, holds a postseason tournament that is not under control of the NCAA. Instead, the four-team knockout competition is administered by the College Football Playoff which expects to pick those semifinalists on Dec. 20.
The championship game is set for Jan. 11, 2021, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Great News: BIG TEN FOOTBALL IS BACK. All teams to participate. Thank you to the players, coaches, parents, and all school representatives. Have a FANTASTIC SEASON! It is my great honor to have helped!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2020
President Donald Trump claimed credit for allegedly pressing the Big Ten to play this fall.
"Thank you to the players, coaches, parents, and all school representatives," he tweeted. "It is my great honor to have helped!!!"
One Big Ten member president insisted Trump's calls for football to be played this fall played no role in the league's decisions.
“President Trump had nothing to do with our decision and did not impact the deliberations," that school president, who did not wish to be identified, told NBC News.
"In fact, when his name came up, it was a negative because no one wanted this to be political.”