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Big Ten announces postponement and targeted start date for fall non-revenue sports

The season won’t start on time, but we can speculate on what it might look like when it does.

UM Photography, S. Janicki

While today’s biggest announcement is certainly the Big Ten’s new football schedule, the league quietly provided some clarity on the rest of the fall sports. Volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, and field hockey have all had the start of their seasons delayed until at least September 5th. The Michigan Field Hockey Twitter account made a post indicating that there should be full schedules soon.

The Big Ten also announced that its medical protocols will apply to all fall sports. The conference sorted sports into classes based on the likelihood of contact. Volleyball, soccer, and field hockey (and football, obviously) were all declared sports with a high risk of contact and will require twice-weekly testing. Cross country was declared intermediate risk, and also only has one competition a week, and will therefore only require one test.

The biggest question with the non-football fall sports is what the schedules might look like, and how that will differ from sport to sport. One potential model can be seen in the ACC, where every fall sport will have each team play the NCAA minimum number of games; six for most sports, and 10 for volleyball. However, ACC teams are allowed to schedule in-state non-conference games, as well as additional games against other ACC teams that are considered non-conference in the standings.

With Big Ten teams barred from scheduling additional non-conference games, my prediction is that most sports will simply play a full round-robin, allowing Big Ten teams to get the minimum number of games and then some. In men’s soccer and field hockey, there are only 9 Big Ten teams. In those sports, an eight-game single round-robin would simply be the standard conference season with non-conference lopped off.

Women’s soccer and volleyball both play with a full complement of 14 teams. In women’s soccer, a 13-match schedule would add two conference matches. In volleyball, a 13-game schedule would fall well short of the usual 20. The Big Ten might schedule several home-and-homes to make up for some of the lost non-conference season, but I think a full single round-robin would be a good compromise between the normal season length and the ACC’s severe shortening.

That brings us to cross country, which doesn’t have a traditional conference season. Last season the national championship was hosted by Indiana State, and the women’s team participated in two different regular-season meets there to get used to the terrain. The Wolverines won’t have the same opportunity this year, with the championship scheduled for Stillwater, OK. The men’s team went as far south as Cary, NC, which also is out of the question.

The ACC guidelines simply say that cross country teams can schedule meets “at their discretion”. The ideal situation would be for the Big Ten to set up a series of conference-only meets. I think the Wolverines will open the season with an intrasquad meet in Dexter as they always do. I’d also bet that the annual Nuttycombe Invitational in Madison will likely still occur, but with a much smaller field of competitors than its typical 30+. The Big Ten Championship site typically hosts an initial regular-season meet as a preview of the course. This year that Championship is scheduled for the University of Michigan Golf Course, so a second Ann Arbor event is likely. It remains to be seen whether or not other schools host Big Ten events, or if the season length is simply reduced.

Several other sports have competitions in the fall. Golf’s championship season is in the spring but the fall tournaments are no different from the spring ones. While no Big Ten release has mentioned it, it seems fair to assume that the fall golf season is canceled. Fall tennis involves a series of tournaments with all athletes competing as individuals, as opposed to the team focused competition of the spring. With these competitions occurring outside of the Big Ten’s purview, it seems safe to assume no Wolverines will participate. Fall exhibitions for baseball, softball, lacrosse, and rowing will almost certainly not happen, though there is a slight chance the Big Ten could allow exhibitions within the conference.

There’s still lots of room for the Big Ten to change its mind about how fall schedules are going to work in non-revenue sports. While there’s still some skepticism that the non-revenue season will happen at all, today’s announcement of a season postponement and start date is an indication that the conference is going to try it’s hardest to play more than just football.