The Big Ten Conference, which includes Rutgers University, has blown the whistle on the fall football season less than a week after setting an intra-league schedule. The league blames the unknowns of COVID-19.
“There is too much uncertainty for us now to feel comfortable to go forward. We just need to do the right thing from a medical standpoint to make sure that our student athletes have an environment that remains both healthy and safe,” said Kevin Warren, commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.
The decision comes after more than 30 Rutgers football players, staff members and those at other Big Ten schools became infected.
Sportswriters note the clincher may have been the COVID case of Indiana offensive lineman Brad Feeney. His mother took to Facebook in a post that went viral. In it, she wrote, “After 14 days of hell battling the horrible virus, his school did additional testing on all those that were positive. My son even received extra tests because he was one of the worst cases. Now we are dealing with possible heart issues! He is still experiencing additional problems. […] Bottom line, even if your son’s schools do everything right to protect them, they CAN’T PROTECT THEM!!”
Keith Sargeant, a sports writer for NJ Advance Media, says the league’s college presidents relied on medical data to postpone the season.
“Some of it came back that the league’s athletes could be at risk for heart damage. There was one report where as many as 10 Big Ten players who contracted the virus have come back with inflammation around the heart. What we do know is that inflammation around the heart could lead to sudden cardiac arrest from intense workouts. Football’s obviously intense workouts,” said Sargeant.
In a statement, Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said, “Our first and highest concern is the health and well-being of our student-athletes and our entire community. The conference made the right decision to postpone the 2020 fall athletic season.”
Sargeant says it’s a huge loss of $50 million in TV contracts. It’s money Rutgers uses to host other sports, both men’s and women’s.
“I’m a little nervous for future seasons of some of the non-revenue generating sports at Big Ten institutions,” said Josh Lupinek, an assistant professor of sport marketing at Montclair State University.
It’s also a huge economic hit for local businesses that rely six or seven times a season on home games that draw thousands of fans to hotels, restaurants and shops.
“There’s no easy way, there’s no sugar coating it that everybody’s going to feel the financial sting on this one,” Lupinek said.
Analysts say it’s too soon to speculate about whether players looking to enter the NFL’s April draft would risk injury playing college football in the spring, and it’s too soon to speculate about the recruitment of high school players.
The only certainty appears to be there’s no competing against the unknown risks of the coronavirus.