The Big Ten will determine whether to cancel games this year based on COVID-19 testing positivity rates within a team, and if a game can't be played, it will be deemed a "no contest," the conference announced on Thursday.
The Big Ten, which begins its season at 8 p.m. ET on Friday when No. 14 Wisconsin hosts Illinois, is attempting to play an eight-game conference season in eight weeks, plus a ninth game for all 14 teams during Big Ten champions week the weekend of Dec. 19. In order to compete in the Big Ten championship game, a team must play at least six games, according to conference tiebreaker rules that were also released on Thursday.
On Sept. 16, when the Big Ten announced its return this fall, the conference also released specific, color-coded guidelines of green, orange and red to follow when determining if practices or games can continue. If the test positivity rate for a team exceeds 5%, a "team must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved."
If a game is canceled, it won't count as a win or loss for either team. Because of the league's truncated schedule, there is no flexibility or bye weeks built in, so conference officials have accounted for the possibility of unbalanced schedules in their lengthy tiebreaker policy. It is similar to that of the Pac-12, which was released earlier this week.
If the average number of Big Ten games falls below six, then teams must play no less than two fewer conference games than the average number of Big Ten games played by all teams to be considered for the league championship. The champion will be determined in each division by its winning percentage, unless there is an unbalanced schedule because of the cancellation of games.
If two or more teams have the same number of conference losses, but a different number of wins, head-to-head results will take precedence over winning percentage. If the canceled game was between the two teams with the same winning percentage, the records of the two tied teams will be compared based on winning percentage within their division.
The start of the Big Ten's season also coincides with spikes of positive coronavirus rates throughout the Midwest, but coaches and administrators throughout the conference have continued to express confidence in the Big Ten's daily antigen testing.
"The daily testing of our players, we've had great a success rate on that," said Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, who announced earlier this week he had tested positive for COVID-19 and has suffered symptoms. "Unfortunately, it got me, and it's something we're going to have to deal with. There are going to be a few things flare up here and there, but I do think as far as testing our guys daily, having the best medical procedures in college football set up for our guys in order to play football, I think we're doing about as good as anybody right now, so I feel confident and I applaud the Big Ten for the ability to get this daily testing going."
The Big Ten also announced on Thursday that each school in the conference will be responsible for enforcing the wearing of masks on the sidelines during games. Conference athletic directors will participate in a weekly review process to ensure compliance and adherence to the protocol.
"I think we're going to be fine," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said earlier this week. "We're going to be sensitive to the moment. There are going to be times when [coach] Ryan Day is in the middle of a call and his mask is down, and we have someone to remind him to put it back up. Kind of like that get-back coach, right? That's where we like it at this point in time. I hope we don't get to a point where we have to fine people."
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said his conference schools can face a cumulative penalty of $1 million as the league continues to enforce COVID-19 sideline protocols and hold head coaches accountable for wearing masks during games. The first offense is $100,000, followed by $200,000, $300,000 and $400,000 for a fourth violation.