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Big Ten Football Coronavirus Protocols Tower Over Power Five Conferences

The Big Ten became the fourth Power Five conference to announce that it would hold a fall football season Wednesday morning.

With plans in place for a nine-game season beginning the weekend of October 24, the conference has put some serious coronavirus precautions in place.

First, it will require its student-athletes, coaches, and “other individuals that are on the field” to undergo virus testing on a daily basis. It’s evident the increased availability of rapid testing, which wasn’t readily available to multiple programs back in August, influenced the conference’s decision.

The Big Ten said this testing process will begin by September 30. Any student-athlete who tests positive must wait 21 days before returning to play. Along with that, all coronavirus-positive student-athletes must undergo comprehensive cardiac testing from a cardiologist before resuming team activities.

With that plan, the Big Ten already has some of the most frequent and thorough testing protocols in the country.

The ACC, which started its season last weekend, currently calls for the testing of all football players three times a week. Two of those tests must occur one day before the game and no more than 48 hours afterward.

The Big 12 also started its season this past weekend and is currently requiring three tests per week among its student-athletes. This includes one rapid antigen test on Friday and two PCR tests throughout the week.

The SEC will start play the weekend of September 26 and is recommending that student-athletes playing high-risk sports (which includes football) participate in “PCR surveillance” twice a week during competition periods.

All three conferences are taking cardiac precautions similar to the Big Ten. The ACC will require coronavirus-positive student-athletes to undergo an evaluation that includes an electrocardiogram, a troponin test, and an echocardiogram before returning to competition. The Big 12 is also recommending similar tests upon return to play for virus-positive students-athletes, as is the SEC.


Along with frequent testing recommendations and cardiac monitoring, the Big Ten also released a comprehensive system in allowing teams to play based on testing data. The conference will use this data to make decisions about practices and competition, mainly based on team positivity rates and population positivity rates on a seven-day rolling average.

  • Team positivity rate (number of positive tests divided by total number of tests administered):
    • Green 0-2%
    • Orange 2-5%
    • Red >5%
  • Population positivity rate (number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk):
    • Green 0-3.5%
    • Orange 3.5-7.5%
    • Red >7.5%

Conferences will base their decisions and protocol on the following team and population positivity scenarios:

  • Green/Green and Green/Orange: Team continues with normal practice and competition.
  • Orange/Orange and Orange/Red: Team must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention (alter practice and meeting schedule, consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition).
  • Red/Red: Team must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved.

No other power five conference currently playing has clear designations for the handling of a certain number of coronavirus cases.

Now, the SEC has a series of recommendations for game discontinuation considerations. Recommendations include if a program has an inability to isolate new positive cases, or an inability to perform symptomatic surveillance. The SEC Task Force’s fall sports recommendation plan also outlines several other scenarios.

The Big 12 announced its game cancellation protocols last week. The conference stated that teams will need to have at least 53 players available to play. However, there are requirements for specific position groups, including at least seven offensive lineman, four interior defensive lineman, and one quarterback.

The ACC is also following the 53-player minimum with specific position group requirements. According to a document obtained by ESPN’s Andrea Nelson, the league needs 50% or more if its members to continue to playing the season. The document includes several other scenarios in which the ACC would cancel its season, including other conferences deciding to postpone.


Look, it’s hard to get incredibly excited about college football returning when State College is quickly becoming a bona fide coronavirus hot spot. However, there’s some optimism to be had thanks to the Big Ten’s carefully constructed testing plans.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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