A day after the Ivy League announced it wouldn't play sports at all this fall, the Big Ten announced it will be moving to a conference-only season for all fall sports on Thursday.
For BYU, the change results in the loss of two games from the 2020 schedule. The Cougars were scheduled to host Michigan State Sept. 12 at LaVell Edwards Stadium and play at Minnesota Sept. 26.
The Big Ten is the first Power 5 conference to make this type of decision for fall sports, but could start to pave the way for other Power 5's, or even Group of 5 conferences.
Six of the Cougars’ opponents come from Power 5 schools. Along with Michigan State and Minnesota, the schedule included opponents from the Pac-12 — rival Utah, Stanford and Arizona State — and SEC’s Missouri.
Then there are five Group of 5 opponents: Boise State, Utah State and San Diego State from Mountain West; Mid-American’s Northern Illinois and American Athletic’s Houston.
Should that be the case, independent BYU could struggle to cobble together a 2020 football schedule. But school athletic department officials say they have been looking at their options if COVID-19 cancellations were to come about, and are continuing to go down that path in the wake of the Big Ten’s announcement.
“The Big Ten’s announcement today obviously has specific ramifications regarding the 2020 BYU football schedule,” the school said in a statement. “As we navigate the uncertainties of the current pandemic, BYU will continue to have discussions with other universities and our stakeholders to make the best possible decisions for our student-athletes and our athletic program.”
Unlike last year, BYU isn’t scheduled to play against any fellow independents this season. But that might now change.
The Big Ten’s Thursday announcement is the most dramatic move yet by a power conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The league cited medical advice in making its decision and added ominously that the plan would be applied only "if the conference is able to participate in fall sports."
"As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate," the league said.
Besides football, the sports affected include men's and women's cross country, field hockey, men's and women's soccer, and women's volleyball.
"By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic," the Big Ten said.
There was no immediate reaction from the other big conferences, though the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have all indicated they intend to play fall sports, anchored by football, by far the biggest moneymaker.
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk was asked about the possible rationale for a conference-only schedule.
"Probably, it's a comfort level of how protocols are being enacted, how testing is done and then keeping it within that family, if you will — your expanded social circle or social pod," said Sterk, whose Tigers play in the SEC. "You might be able to control things more that way, or feel like you can, anyway versus the unknown of people coming from outside our 11 states."
The Big Ten said it would release detailed schedules later and continue to evaluate other sports. The league said its schools will honor scholarships for athletes who choose not to compete in the upcoming academic year because of concerns about the coronavirus.
Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson said he and his Big Ten colleagues “know that there remain many questions that still need to be answered, and we will work toward finding those answers in the coming weeks.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
This story will be updated.