We Run Down the COVID-19 Situation on Big Ten Campuses. It’s Not Pretty

The only good part of this is that there won’t be 90,000 fans risking exposure every Saturday in the Big Ten.

The only good part of this is that there won’t be 90,000 fans risking exposure every Saturday in the Big Ten.
Image: Getty

The Big Ten is back from the dead.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the truncated football season will start in mid October and every athlete will get daily testing beginning Sept. 30.


Antigen tests will be the way players get their rapid results. But according to the FDA, antigen tests “have a higher chance of missing an active infection,” as opposed to Molecular (PCR) tests which may take longer but are “typically highly accurate and usually does not need to be repeated.”

Additional reporting suggests that athletes will have cardiac screenings and players who test positive will have to sit for 21 days before returning to play.


Last month, Big Ten presidents voted 11-3 to postpone the season (Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa the three schools voting to play) for health reasons associated with myocarditis, a heart ailment associated with COVID-19. Doctors and infectious disease specialists are still studying the potentially deadly heart condition in connection with COVID-19.

Recently, Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, Penn State’s Director of Athletic Medicine said that 30-35 percent of Big Ten athletes with COVID showed symptoms of myocarditis. But those numbers have since been walked back by the school. A spokesperson downplaying the numbers saying they were shared prematurely from a “forthcoming study which unbeknownst to him at the time had been published at a lower rate.”

So, apparently it’s all safe to play now! Right? Well, here’s what’s happening on every Big Ten campus with regards to COVID.

Most of the conference is in the midwest, where new cases have recently reached record levels.



Illinois has the most COVID cases of any university in the state — 1,760 — almost as high as New Zealand’s total caseload since the outbreak started. Over the summer, at least 18 football players contracted COVID. They were some of the only students on campus because of preseason training. 23 athletes, total, have contracted the virus.


Yesterday, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker doubled down on his decision to postpone Illinois high school fall sports, including football.

He told reporters that other states have “decided to endanger children and families…by allowing certain contact sports to take place, that’s their decision. That’s not something that’s good for the families, the children of Illinois.”



After a relatively successful campus opening in August, Indiana has recommended closing all greek houses after “increasingly alarming” rates of positive COVID tests.



The University of Iowa has reported 1,804 positive cases of COVID. The school has also canceled spring break for students but will allow athletes to travel around the midwest.


482 Iowa faculty, staff, and students have “requested alternative working and learning spaces” as classes remain in person.


When athletes were the only ones on campus last week, UMD announced that it would suspend all athletic activities because of a spike in COVID cases. “The most recent testing results have revealed an uptick in positive tests among Maryland student-athletes,” said Maryland athletic director, Damon Evans. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily pausing all workouts for our programs.”


UMD athletics have since resumed, just in time for thousands of other students to return to campus. Students arrived on Monday after in-person learning was delayed two weeks.


Ten percent of the Michigan dance department is in quarantine and the university dance building is closed after students and faculty came in contact with folks who tested positive for COVID. Dance, like sports, is an athletic activity that cannot be done virtually.


In an email to dance students, the chair of the dance department wrote, “I know this is not what any of us would prefer to do but I think it’s the only way we can contribute to the ongoing safety and well-being of the students, while also providing a safe working environment for all faculty and staff.”

Also, the graduate student workers at Michigan are striking in part for better COVID protections.


Michigan has recorded 344 cases since campus reopened.

Michigan State

Michigan State students were supposed to arrive on campus to a hybrid learning environment. They never showed up. Before freshman move-in day Michigan State President Samuel Stanley, a “distinguished biomedical researcher,” told students that the university would shift to virtual learning. “It has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus,” Stanley said in August.


Today, MSU students are being asked to quarantine as virus cases in East Lansing skyrocket. Ingham County Health Officer, Linda S. Vail, called the growing caseload caused by off-campus parties, “an urgent situation.”

“The exponential growth of COVID-19 cases must stop,” Vail said. “I am concerned about the health and safety of the MSU community, and importantly, I am seriously concerned that unchecked transmission locally will affect the health and safety of all Ingham County residents. If we do not slow the spread immediately, we will be dealing with the consequences across the county for months to come.”


While students learn online this fall, Stanley now will allow athletes to take the field on campus.


Students at the University of Minnesota moved into their dorms yesterday after weeks of delay. Somehow, the university already has 124 cases. Let’s see what happens when thousands of students move into a major metro area, that being Minneapolis, to begin in-person learning.


Can’t see ANYTHING going wrong here.


At the end of August, eight Nebraska players sued the Big Ten over the league’s decision to postpone the fall sports season. And in the last two weeks, Nebraska’s state caseload has risen for a second time. State cases are up 14 percent over two weeks. In the same timeframe, COVID death rates in Nebraska are, tragically, up by 74 percent. Where are many cases coming from? Lancaster County, home of Nebraska’s flagship campus — a hotspot county according to the New York Times.


Lincoln, Neb. currently has 504 cases.


It should come as no surprise that the smallest Big Ten school has the lowest number of cases — 73. With the Big Ten set to play in October, Northwestern will kick off their football season before Chicago public schools open for face to face learning.


Penn State

Last week, Penn State paused all athletic activities after a spike in COVID cases. 48 athletes caught the virus and hundreds of students tested positive since the school reopened.



Over the weekend, 29 housing units including some dorms, fraternities and sororities, were under quarantine. The university has 322 cases.



The Scarlet Knights had “at least” 30 football players contract the virus when the team returned to campus in June. Returning coach Greg Schiano said the outbreak was “like getting hit by a two-by-four.”


The Rutgers outbreak was the worst in Big Ten football.

Ohio State

Ohio State has the most COVID cases of any college in the state — 1,528.


To slow the spread of COVID, UW-Madison recently announced that spring break has been canceled. But travel sports? Fly away!


Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank spoke at yesterday’s senate hearing on college athlete compensation. She told Sen. Tim Kaine (D – VA) that she supported the conference’s original decision to postpone the fall season. The forthcoming decision from Big Ten, she said, would be made by all university presidents. She also told the committee that the school is not, “sponsoring college sports because of its potential to make money.”


Oh, and UW has already reported 2,138 cases since school reopened, that’s more cases than the state of Vermont (since March). Last week, the campus suspended face-to-face instruction and the school has “threatened more drastic action” as the campus outbreak spreads into Madison. Students from two dorm buildings have also been quarantined.


Thankfully, there won’t be fans in the stands, so 90,000 or so people won’t risk being exposed every Saturday.

Still, football is back in the Big Ten for manyreasons. But not because these campuses are safer or healthier than they were weeks ago.

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