The most anticipated Gophers football season in many years won’t be played, or best case it will be delayed until the spring. That became official on Tuesday afternoon when presidents and chancellors from the Big Ten voted to postpone all fall sports because of the coronavirus pandemic. The hope is that fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball) can be played in the spring.
The decision comes after the Big Ten announced a new conference only football schedule last week and teams began practicing on Friday.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.
“We know how significant the student-athlete experience can be in shaping the future of the talented young women and men who compete in the Big Ten Conference. Although that knowledge made this a painstaking decision, it did not make it difficult. While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point. Everyone associated with the Big Ten Conference and its member institutions is committed to getting everyone back to competition as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Big Ten presidents met twice over the weekend and reports circulated that they would cancel or postpone fall sports. But they also wanted to see if the other Power Five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) would follow. The Pac-12 did exactly that later Tuesday as the conference’s CEO group voted unanimously to postpone fall sports and will look at options to return to competition next year.
The Big Ten had had several top players opt-out before the decision to postpone, including Gophers All-America wide receiver Rashod Bateman. The Gophers were 11-2 overall and 7-2 in the Big Ten last season in P.J. Fleck’s third year as coach. Minnesota beat Auburn, 31-24, on New Year’s Day in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., and was expected to again challenge for the Big Ten West title with Bateman and quarterback Tanner Morgan returning. Minnesota was ranked 10th in the final Associated Press poll of the season.
In addition to football, Gophers sports affected by the Big Ten’s decision include men’s and women’s cross country, soccer and volleyball.