The Big Ten and Pac-12, two of the five wealthiest US college sports conferences, have postponed their fall sports seasons due to COVID-19, including the highly lucrative American football competitions.

The ‘Power Five’ conferences, whose membership include the likes of University of Michigan, Ohio State University and the University of Southern California, took the decision yesterday (Tuesday). The Big Ten suspended fall sports, while the Pac-12 said it would not stage any sports competitions for the remainder of 2020.

The decision came amid widespread opposition to such a move, including from President Donald Trump who has suggested that college athletes are fit enough to withstand COVID-19. Trump had said at a news conference: “We want to get football in colleges. These are young, strong people. They won’t have a big problem with the China virus. So we want to see college football start.”

The Pac-12 said it will consider a return to competition for “impacted sports” after the New Year, while the Big Ten will assess “the possibility of competition in the spring,” for fall athletic programs. “The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott.

“Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.”

Scott said that while the Conference’s detailed plan to keep student-athletes safe was working in accordance with the Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee guidelines and state and local government orders, the situation was becoming more challenging.

He added: “Unlike professional sports, college sports cannot operate in a bubble. Our athletic programs are a part of broader campuses in communities where in many cases the prevalence of COVID-19 is significant. We will continue to monitor the situation and when conditions change we will be ready to explore all options to play the impacted sports in the new calendar year.”

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told Big Ten Network: “All the decisions we would make during my tenure here will always put the mental and physical health and wellness of our student-athletes at the centre. We just believed collectively there’s too much uncertainty at this point in time in our country to encourage our student-athletes to participate in fall sports.”

Earlier this year, research carried out for ESPN by Washington University, in St. Louis, stated the 65 schools that make up the Power Five conferences would collectively lose more than $4bn (£3.06bn/€3.4bn) in football revenue, with at least $1.2bn of that due to lost ticket revenue, if the season was called off entirely.

The three other Power Five conferences – Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference – have yet to make a definitive decision on their plans.

College sport has been hit hard by COVID-19. In March, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was forced to cancel its showpiece men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The men’s event, better known as March Madness, was not staged for the first time since it launched in 1939.

Image: University of Michigan