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Big Ten to move fall sports to conference-only schedule; Maryland to lose in-state football matchup with Towson

The Big Ten on Thursday announced its plan to move its fall sports to a conference-only schedule, as collegiate and professional sports leagues continue to make adjustments to their operations amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, the conference said that “if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports.”

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The decision affects football, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.

The Big Ten is the first Power Five conference to announce a change to its fall sports. The Ivy League on Wednesday announced it would postpone all fall sports until at least January.

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In a statement, Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said, “We are in full support of the actions taken by the Big Ten Conference today. The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff members is paramount. [Big Ten] Commissioner [Kevin] Warren, our conference presidents and athletic directors have been in daily communication over several months as we navigate the challenges during this unprecedented time.

“We continue to work with medical experts to best focus on how to proceed for this coming season in a safe and responsible fashion,” Evans continued. “We know there are significant unknowns at this time but are working to ensure the health and safety of everyone in our campus community remains our top priority. As additional information and decisions are made, we will communicate at those times. We are in this together as #OneMaryland.”

The decision largely affects the college football landscape, with the potential for football coming under question after multiple positive tests for COVID-19 have forced programs to either postpone or cancel voluntary summer workouts.

The sport is a great revenue generator for athletic programs small and large. Smaller programs often rely on large payouts from their games with Power Five teams.

“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 statement said.

The Big Ten typically plays nine conference football games and three nonconference games. Maryland football was set to open the 2020 season hosting in-state Towson and then Northern Illinois, followed by a road matchup with West Virginia. Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, the Terrapins are 14-34 in conference play.

“While we were looking forward to playing Maryland this season, we understand and respect the decision made by the Big Ten Conference and their members due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting the entire nation,” Towson Director of Athletics Tim Leonard told The Baltimore Sun in a statement. “We look forward to competing against the Terps in the future.”

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said it was “much easier if we’re just working with our Big Ten institutions” in terms of things like scheduling and traveling.”We may not have sports in the fall,” Warren told the Big Ten Network. “We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten.”So we just wanted to make sure that this was the next logical step to always rely on our medical experts to keep our student-athletes at the center of all of our decisions and make sure that they are as healthy as they possibly can be from a mental, a physical, an emotional health and wellness standpoint.”

After the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of spring sports and suspension of team activities, the NCAA lifted its moratorium on activities July 1.

Facilities soon opened up for voluntary football workouts. While schools have announced instances of positive tests among student-athletes and staff, Maryland on June 26 announced that it received zero positive tests in its initial screening process of 105 student-athletes. The Big Ten also announced summer athletic activities would continue to be voluntary.

Bowie State won’t be playing football at all this fall after the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association announced Thursday that it won’t sponsor sports competition this fall. The conference said in a release that it would evaluate moving competitions to the spring.

Johns Hopkins and McDaniel had their fall football schedules postponed when the Centennial Conference made a similar announcement Wednesday.

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Associated Press contributed to this story.

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