The Big Ten Conference’s decision to start football next month after a brief postponement likely set into motion the tumblers to unlock the rest of the league’s fall sports, and the winter sports that traditionally start in the fall.
Football will begin a conference-only schedule the weekend of Oct. 23-24, but the conference did not have any news about any other sports, including fall sports such as volleyball and soccer.
Near the end of its official football announcement, the conference said, “Updates regarding fall sports other than football, as well as winter sports that begin in the fall … will be announced shortly.”
“We felt from a logistical standpoint, from an operational standpoint, that we needed to button-down football because 1) with the number of student-athletes there, we figured once we got that solved, then being able to apply those same policies, procedures and protocols of the other sports will be straight forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said Wednesday.
Those discussions, he said, will start Thursday.
The timing of Wednesday’s announcement created an odd juxtaposition on Minnesota’s campus, where Gophers student-athletes, and a few coaches, gathered to protest the school’s decision to eliminate the men’s gymnastics, tennis, and track and field programs in an effort to cope with the budget shortfall anticipated when the conference postponed football.
Approximately 300 gathered at the Athletes Village, where they listened to a few student-athletes speak before moving south on campus to Morrill Hall, where President Joan Gabel has her office. Gymnastics alumnus Steve Jaciuk spoke on the steps, but Gabel did not greet the protesters.
“It was good to see the community show up,” said men’s gymnastics coach Mike Burns, whose team is practicing for what could be its final season on campus. “There was a real sense of solidarity.”
The Board of Regents endorsed athletic director Mark Coyle’s decision to eliminate the programs, and save about $2.7 million, but did not officially vote on it. The decision to play football will bring some television money back into the coffers, but without full stadiums, Big Ten schools still will see massive budget shortfalls.
“Does this change things? It certainly throws another variable into the equation,” Burns said. “I have to think, is this a magic pill? We just don’t know.”
The Gophers’ volleyball team, which advanced to the Final Four last fall, would typically be well into its nonconference season by now, and soccer would be nearing its conference slate. Cross country would be preparing for the annual Roy Griak Invitational.
When the Big Ten postponed fall sports, it decided that if fall sports do come back, it was decided all would play conference-only schedules. When those might begin hasn’t been determined.
“We’ll talk about that internally and as always follow the advice and guidance of our athletic directors and we’ll make the determination at that appropriate time,” Warren said. “Then we’ll be able to circle back and make that announcement, too.”