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Penn State football season back on

Big Ten reverses decision that postponed fall sports

Penn State football is back for the 2020 season.

The Big Ten Conference confirmed Wednesday morning that its season will start on Oct. 23-24.

After announcing the postponement of all sports on Aug. 11 due to the coronavirus, conference presidents and chancellors met over the weekend and voted unanimously to green-light football.

Schedules are expected to be finalized as soon as today or by the end of this week, said Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez.

The presidents changed their position due to the emergence of daily, rapid-response COVID-19 testing. The Big Ten said it will begin daily antigen testing of all its fall sport athletes, coaches and staff Sept. 30.

The news was cause for celebration throughout the league.

“I haven’t seen a schedule, but I’m fired up,” Penn State coach James Franklin told the Big Ten Network. “Our practices have been good, but now I think we can take it to a whole another level.”

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, chairman of the presidents’ council, said the turning point for him — even though many students have not been allowed back on the Evanston, Illinois, campus — didn’t come until this past weekend.

“Medical opinions changed,” Schapiro said. “Paul Samuelson, the great economist, was once asked why he changed his mind. And he said, ‘When the facts change, the mind changes.'”

Penn State President Eric Barron initially was part of an 11-3 vote — the dissenters were Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa — to postpone.

But Barron is now on board.

“Yesterday, I voted to move forward with fall sports,” Barron said in a statement released Wednesday. “I did so based on an extraordinary amount of effort by a Big Ten task force over the last month to create the necessary conditions for a COVID-free arena of play.”

Team positivity rates and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine whether teams must halt practice or play.

The earliest an athlete will be able to return to game competition would be 21 days after a COVID-19 positive diagnosis, following a cardiac evaluation and clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university.

Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, was also among the concerns cited by the Big Ten in August.

“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, team physician for Ohio State.

“Our new approach is data-driven and guided by a chief infection officer to be designated by each institution,” Barron said. “Importantly, many of the medical experts from Big Ten universities who did not think we could play safely on Aug. 11 supported these new strategies as sufficient to create a COVID-free arena of play and lowered risk for student-athletes who have tested positive.”

Each team will play an eight-game regular schedule — with no scheduled bye weeks — and the championship game, pitting the top team from the East and West Division, will take place on Saturday, Dec. 19.

In addition to the Big Ten title game, each team in the conference will also play on the weekend of Dec. 18-19 with order of finish in each division determining the matchups.

Teams will play games in their campus stadiums, but tickets will not be sold to the public. Penn State reportedly is considering a plan to include parents of the players.

“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. “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 Aug. 11.”

The Big Ten and Pac-12 were the major conferences that postponed their seasons while the SEC, ACC and Big 12 forged ahead.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott released a statement Tuesday saying the conference has not been given the go-ahead by state officials in California and Oregon to begin preparing for a football season.

“We are hopeful that our new daily testing capability can help satisfy public health official approvals in California and Oregon to begin contact practice and competition,” he said.

The Pac-12 is also dealing with wildfires across the West.

Penn State also released its latest COVID-19 test results Wednesday. After having athletes test positive for the week of Aug. 31-Sept. 4, 50 more (out of 859 tests) came out positive in the week of Sept. 5-11.

Some of the university’s sports teams halted fall practices, but football was not one of them.

“I’m going to go above and beyond,” Franklin said. “We wear masks at practice and not too many people I see are doing that. I would rather do more to make sure our parents, coaches and players know we’re doing it in a safe way.”

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