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Has Big Ten Football COVID-19 Guidelines gone too far for Teams to Compete? 

October 28, 2020

Has Big Ten Football COVID-19 Shortened Season and Strict COVID-19 protocols make it difficult for teams to Compete? 

First Big Ten Game Canceled Due to COVID-19

Chicago Sports Legal Analyst and Family Law attorney says positive testing Big Ten players missing 21 days put teams at a disadvantage

The shortened and delayed Big Ten Season combined with strict COVID-19 protocols leave no room for flexibility this season.

The University of Wisconsin and University of Nebraska game on Halloween has been canceled due to COVID-19 issues plaguing the Badger Football team. Twelve people associated with the Wisconsin football program have tested positive for COVID-19 over the last five days, including redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz and head coach Paul Chryst. Wisconsin is pausing all team activities for seven days as more tests are pending. 

Last Friday, Wisconsin and Illinois kicked off the Big Ten football season in Madison in a shortened season that doesn’t allow for much flexibility. The recent confirmation that Badger starting quarterback Mertz tested positive for COVID-19 on his second test, could raise concerns that the Big Ten Conference’s strict COVID-19 testing and protocols went too far, according to Chicago Family Law and Sports Legal Analyst Todd Glassman, who co-chairs Allen & Glassman, Chartered Family Law’s Sports & Entertainment Division, which works with professional and collegiate teams to keep players safe off the field. 

Glassman says safety is paramount but when a player tests positive for COVID-19 and has to sit out for 21-day, it puts teams at a competitive disadvantage. 

“I do appreciate and agree that health has to be the priority and for these universities and the Big Ten Conference by taking a more conservative approach to protect the health of their players,” said Glassman. “It is understandable especially as numbers are spiking. You do not want to be in a situation medically and legally speaking, where the players or coaches went back too soon and put their health at risk.” 

Three other Power Five conferences require players testing positive to only have to sit out for 14 days. With the SEC, ACC and Big-12 starting the season on time, they were able to build in bye games into the schedule. The Big-10 has no room for canceled or rescheduled games.

Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz grabbed two Big Ten honors with his high performance in the Badger’s 45-7 win over the Illini last week. However, now with two positive COVID-19 test results, Big Ten protocol requires Mertz to sit out for 21 days, which wipes out a third of his season. Wisconsin backup quarterback Chase Wolf has tested positive in his antigen test and will be required to take a PCR test. 

The Big Ten also has a lower threshold for canceling games. Big Ten games canceled due to COVID-19 will be considered no contests and won’t affect a team’s win-loss record. According to the Big-Ten protocols, a team cannot practice or play if its seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 positivity rate surpasses 5 percent among players.

 According to Glassman can also address the following legal questions:

  1. Could Mertz have any legal action for a lost season?
  2. Could there by exceptions made now to transfer to other conferences with less stringent rules?
  3. Will lawsuits arise from students on campus contracting COVID-19 while student athletes are being tested, who (non-student athletes) may have not gotten sick if they have the same access to tests?
  4. What will be the legal repercussions if other fall or even winter spring sports are not reinstated or don’t have the same testing and funding for health than football does? We already have seen gender inequality lawsuits filed against the University of Iowa.
  5. Are schools and the Big Ten Conference immune from lawsuits from football players and staff and those they pass it too? Is there any player staff waiver and immunity for schools and conferences once you opt in?
  6. What are potential legal risks of trying to come back too soon? What are legal repercussions for the schools if they come back too soon….will this season be able to be pulled off for Big Ten?
  7. Will these strict COVID-19 protocols support an argument for college athletes to now get paid or have at least the option of branding?

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