Big Ten announces return to football October 23-24, Canadian players rejoice

Photo courtesy: Mark Selders/Penn State Athletics

The Big Ten, one of the most powerful conferences in NCAA football, has reversed the earlier decision to cancel its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, the Power 5 conference intends to resume play on the weekend of October 23rd-24th with the help of a stringent set of testing guidelines.

From the Big Ten’s official release:

The Big Ten will require student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing. Test results must be completed and recorded prior to each practice or game. Student-athletes who test positive for the coronavirus through point of contact (POC) daily testing would require a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result of the POC test.

“Everyone associated with the Big Ten should be very proud of the groundbreaking steps that are now being taken to better protect the health and safety of the student-athletes and surrounding communities,” said Dr. Jim Borchers, Head Team Physician, The Ohio State University and co-chair of the Return to Competition Task Force medical subcommittee. 
“The data we are going to collect from testing and the cardiac registry will provide major contributions for all 14 Big Ten institutions as they study COVID-19 and attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease among wider communities.”
Each institution will designate a Chief Infection Officer (CInO) who will oversee the collection and reporting of data for the Big Ten Conference. Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition.
All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI. Following cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.
In addition to the medical protocols approved, the 14 Big Ten institutions will establish a cardiac registry in an effort to examine the effects on COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The registry and associated data will attempt to answer many of the unknowns regarding the cardiac manifestations in COVID-19 positive elite athletes.

The announcement was highly anticipated by a number of high profile Canadians who call the Big Ten home. For many, a cancelled season posed a significant hurdle to their pro prospects and projected breakouts. Ottawa’s Jesse Luketa of Penn State — who is expected to take on a starting role following the opt-out of star teammate Micah Parsons — showed his elation on Twitter with a video of his teammates dancing on game day.

Luketa wasn’t alone in celebrating. Minnesota’s starting cornerback Benjamin St-Juste was at the forefront of a fight for more stringent testing this off-season. He took to Twitter to show he was ready to get back on the field.

Luketa and St-Juste are just two Canadian stars in the Big Ten, but many others will benefit from this decision. Iowa tackle Alaric Jackson, Illinois safety Sydney Brown, Michigan edge defender Luiji Vilain and Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland are all established players who will see plenty of action for their squads.

The Big Ten also boasts a number of promising Canadian recruits. Chief among them is Penn State tight end Theo Johnson, a four-star recruit in 2020 and the top-ranked player in Canada. He could see a role as early as day one and expressed his excitement on social media.

We couldn’t agree more, Theo.