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Big Ten postponed fall sports to spring 2021. Now what?



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The Big Ten Conference announced Tuesday that all fall sports have been postponed to the spring, including football. IDS file photo and Matt Begala

The Big Ten Conference made a sweeping decision to postpone 2020 fall sports Tuesday, making it the first year IU will not have a fall football season since at least 1890. But the news had a silver lining: the possibility of playing fall sports in spring 2021.

College football analyst and former Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer famously said he thinks the spring season won't happen. Other coaches are more optimistic.

"We're hopeful that, possibly, a vaccine can happen here rapidly and maybe we can, possibly, move forward and play," Purdue head football coach Jeff Brohm said in an interview with the Big Ten Network Tuesday.

But pushing fall sports to the spring isn’t as simple as starting the season in March. It could have lasting effects, jeopardizing the health of student-athletes during the 2021 fall season by forcing students to play two seasons within a span of a few months.

There’s also the issue of scheduling the football season so close to the 2021 NFL Draft, which is slated to take place April 29 to May 1.

Moving the season interferes with the pre-draft process and poses a setback for prospects who are used to deliberating their decisions months in advance. If the spring season happens, it’s predicted some NFL hopefuls will opt out to prepare for the draft.

Shared facilities create additional issues for teams. Volleyball dominates Wilkinson Hall in the fall season, but pushing the season into 2021 conflicts with wrestling. IU Crimson cheerleaders are used to preparing for the UCA College Cheerleading National Championship after football season and could be forced to juggle training with football and basketball cheer.

There are issues with maintenance and staffing. Memorial Stadium is not normally watered in the winter, so changes may be required to keep the stadium in shape. Meanwhile, postponing athletics to spring could spread the lineup thin for the IU Event Services staff at athletic events.  

“A big part of our job is to be flexible,” Mike Santa, general manager at IU Event Services, said. “We’re ready to roll with whatever the Big Ten throws our way.”

As the logistical issues are weighed, the fate of college basketball is also in question. While the Pac-12 postponed all sports, including basketball, through the end of 2020, the Big Ten hasn’t mentioned any plans beyond the fall season.

There’s also the possibility that a vaccine will not be ready in time for basketball season or spring sports to take place. And if a vaccine is ready, a large portion of the public might not trust the vaccine enough to take it.

As other conferences prepare for a fall sports season, it's still not clear if students can transfer out of the Big Ten to a school with fall sports and earn immediate eligibility. There is also uncertainty about future eligibility for current seniors, prompting a public statement from the IU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

With so many questions left unanswered, some players from Big Ten universities took to Twitter to vent. Projected top-five 2021 NFL draft pick Justin Fields, who transferred from the University of Georgia in 2019 to play for Ohio State, had just one word on the matter on Twitter.

“Smh..” Fields wrote, or “shake my head.”

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