Big Ten to play conference-only football schedule in 2020

Sam Cooper
·5 min read

The Big Ten is planning on playing a conference-only football schedule in 2020, if it can hold a season at all.

The conference announced the decision Thursday, confirming multiple media reports. The move was precipitated by the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic and applies to all fall sports — men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

“We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority,” the conference said in a statement. “To that end, the Big Ten Conference announced today that if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports.”

The Big Ten said that keeping its competition within the conference gives it the needed flexibility to operate during the pandemic.

“By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic,” the Big Ten said.

Scheduling details for each fall sport will be released at a later date while decisions on other sports “will continue to be evaluated.” Big Ten football teams typically play nine conference games, though some outlets are reporting it could expand to 10 in 2020.

The Big Ten logo is seen on the field before an NCAA college football game between Iowa and Miami of Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
The Big Ten is planning on playing a conference-only football schedule in 2020. Other conferences could follow. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Big Ten ‘prepared not to play’ if unsafe

The Big Ten said it is working toward conference-wide medical protocols and is “prepared not to play” the season if it is deemed unsafe.

“As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate,” the conference said.

Summer workouts will continue to be considered voluntary for the sports currently permitted to participate in them. Additionally, any Big Ten athlete who decides not to participate “at any time during the summer and/or the 2020-21 academic year” due to concerns about COVID-19 will have their scholarship honored by their university and will “remain in good standing with their team.”

ACC, Pac-12 next?

The Big Ten is the first FBS conference to take this unprecedented step in order to play the 2020 college football season, but reportedly won’t be the only one to do so.

According to multiple reports, the Pac-12 is expected to also decide on a conference-only schedule in the coming days. Stadium is reporting that the ACC is expected to do the same — a move that could have a big impact on Notre Dame, which has a scheduling agreement with the league.

The ACC announced earlier Thursday it would delay the start of fall competition until at least Sept. 1, a move that does not impact football, which begins Sept. 2 for the ACC. At the FCS level, the Ivy League has canceled all fall sports while the Patriot League won’t begin fall competition until Sept. 4.

Big Ten non-conference games affected

The move to conference-only, should it come to fruition, would remove an array of marquee non-conference games from the schedule, including Ohio State at Oregon, Michigan at Washington, Penn State at Virginia Tech and Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, among many others.

It would also be a brutal financial blow for non-power conference programs who depend on the guaranteed money from these scheduling agreements. Six FBS programs — Ball State, Bowling Green, BYU, Central Michigan, Connecticut and Northern Illinois — have two Big Ten opponents on their schedules for the 2020 season. Bowling Green, for example, would reportedly lose out on $2.2 million without playing its two Big Ten games.

Here are the full non-conference slates for each Big Ten team:


Sept. 4: Illinois State

Sept. 12: UConn

Sept. 19: Bowling Green


Sept. 12: Western Kentucky

Sept. 19: Ball State

Sept. 26: UConn


Sept. 5: Northern Iowa

Sept. 12: Iowa State

Sept. 26: Northern Illinois


Sept. 5: Towson

Sept. 12: Northern Illinois

Sept. 19: West Virginia


Sept. 5: Washington

Sept. 12: Ball State

Sept. 19: Arkansas State

Michigan State

Sept. 12: BYU

Sept. 19: Toledo

Sept. 26: Miami


Sept. 3: Florida Atlantic

Sept. 12: Tennessee Tech

Sept. 26: BYU


Sept. 12: Central Michigan

Sept. 19: South Dakota State

Sept. 26: Cincinnati


Sept. 12: Tulane

Sept. 19: Central Michigan

Nov. 14: Morgan State

Ohio State

Sept. 5: Bowling Green

Sept. 12: Oregon

Sept. 19: Buffalo

Penn State

Sept. 5: Kent State

Sept. 12: Virginia Tech

Sept. 19: San Jose State


Sept. 12: Memphis

Sept. 19: Air Force

Sept. 26: Boston College


Sept. 5: Monmouth

Sept. 12: Syracuse

Sept. 19: Temple


Sept. 12: Southern Illinois

Sept. 19: Appalachian State

Oct. 3: Notre Dame

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