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Big Ten’s football return makes Pac-12 the ‘Power Five’ outlier

US college sports conference the Big Ten has announced it will open its American football season on October 23-24, little over a month after deciding to postpone.

The Big Ten and Pac-12, two of the five wealthiest conferences, last month postponed their fall sports seasons due to COVID-19, including the highly lucrative 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 despite pressure to continue.

The Big Ten suspended fall sports, while the Pac-12 said it would not stage any sports competitions for the remainder of 2020. However, the Big Ten yesterday (Wednesday) changed its tune, with all 14 teams scheduled to play eight regular-season games in eight weeks, with the conference championship game set for December 19.

“We’re in a better place, regardless of how we got here or how painful it was during the time we waited to get this moment,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said, according to the Associated Press news agency. “That’s all behind us. What’s beautiful is that we have a process and protocols in place that’s based on science and based on lessons learned since August 11.”

The Big Ten said its Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously to restart sports. Last month’s vote to postpone was 11-3, with Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska voting against. However, the huge football stadia of the Big Ten, such as the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania, won’t be filled with their usual 100,000 fans.

While some attendance is expected, tickets won’t be sold to the general public for Big Ten games. “That’s still an 80,000-seat stadium that we don’t have,” said University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez when referring to Camp Randall Stadium (pictured). Alvarez had earlier estimated the loss of the football season would cost the college $100m (£77.5m/€84.7m).

Even President Donald Trump intervened in the college football debate, with the Big Ten home to a number of key states in November’s election. “I called the commissioner (Kevin Warren) a couple of weeks ago and we started really putting a lot of pressure on, frankly,” Trump said yesterday. “There was no reason for it not to come back.” He added: “There is no reason why the Pac-12 shouldn’t be playing now.”

The Pac-12 is set to meet tomorrow to discuss its options, but half of its colleges are based in states whereby restrictions mean the teams cannot even train. The other Power Five members – Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12 and Southeastern Conference (SEC) – have pressed ahead with their plans.

The Big 12 and ACC kicked off their football seasons last week, with the SEC due to begin on September 26.

Image: University of Wisconsin