US college grouping says no sport before 2021 over virus

Gregory Shamus
·3 min read
A view of Michigan Stadium during a gridiron game between Big Ten colleges Michigan and Indiana

US college sport's elite Big Ten Conference on Tuesday voted to postpone all sport until 2021 because of coronavirus fears, a key decision expected to be followed by other colleges.

In a statement, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said the decision -- which means abandoning the conference's hugely lucrative and popular autumn gridiron season -- was taken with the safety of athletes in mind.

"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," Warren said in a 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."

Warren added colleges hoped sport could return next year.

"It doesn't mean that we're giving up forever," he said.

The Big Ten is the oldest top tier collegiate conference in the United States. Its 14 members include several powerhouses in the world of US college American football.

The Big Ten conference's decision could prompt the four other major college sport conferences -- the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC -- to abandon their autumn seasons. ESPN reported Tuesday that the Pac-12 had voted to scrap the autumn schedule.

As well as gridiron, the Big Ten decision means sports such as cross-country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball will also be shelved.

- Political football -

The prospect of the coronavirus prompting the college gridiron season to be wiped out in its entirety has become a political football in the United States.

The college gridiron season is one of the pillar's of the US sporting landscape, with games regularly taking place before packed large-capacity stadiums and enjoying a national profile on a par with professional US sports.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump told Fox Sports Radio it would be a "tragic mistake" if colleges voted to halt gridiron.

"These football players are very young, strong people, and physically, I mean they're physically in extraordinary shape," Trump said in the interview. 

"So they're not going to have a problem, you're not going to see people, you know, could there be? Could it happen? But I doubt it.

"So I think football is making a tragic mistake."

Prominent college football stars had also urged authorities to press ahead with the season, in a co-ordinated series of announcements on social media.

Enduring concerns about the long-term impact of contracting COVID-19, irrespective of age and overall health, weighed heavily on the Big Ten decision.

At least 800 college football players have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a tally posted by Sports Illustrated.

US media reports said administrators had been particularly concerned by evidence that a rare heart condition, myocarditis or inflammation of the heart muscle, had been found in several college athletes.

"There have been some concerns raised for that very reason: Do you not have uneasiness about having athletes participating knowing that you don't know what that longer-range outlook is? The answer is of course, yes," John MacKnight, the head primary care team physician at the University of Virginia, told ESPN.

"We don't have enough information to say this is the likelihood that this will or will not happen."