NU's Fitzgerald On Downsized Big Ten Season: 'We Need To Be Safe'

WBBM Newsradio Staff
July 09, 2020 - 8:33 pm

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

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(WBBM NEWSRADIO/AP) -- The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday it will not play nonconference games in football and several other sports this fall, the most dramatic move yet by a power conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The conference 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."

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"We may not have sports in the fall," Commissioner Kevin Warren told the Big Ten Network. "We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten.”

For Northwestern University Head Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his Wildcats, it’s a fluid situation.

“We need to be smart, we need to be safe, if we all want college football, if we want sports to continue to move forward in our country,” Fitzgerald tells WBBM Newsradio’s George Ofman. “It seems to be a major fabric in our country.”

“Sports is a part of what we do,” he added. “The health and safety of our entire community is paramount.”

Fitzgerald said his athletes are interested in playing, if it can be done properly.

“It’s not going to necessarily be the four hours they’re with us — it’s going to be the 20 hours the rest of the day, the choices and decisions and who they surround themselves with.”

There has been deep unease that the pandemic will deal a blow to fall sports after wiping out hundreds of games, including March Madness, this past spring.

The Big Ten decision is the biggest yet because Bowl Subdivision football games — more than 40 of them, all moneymakers in different ways — were simply erased. And the move didn't wash away fears the entire fall season could be in jeopardy.

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.

The marquee nonconference matchups in the Big Ten this season included Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field, home of the NFL's Green Bay Packers.

A handful of teams were scheduled to play two Big Ten opponents, including Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois. Bowling Green athletic director Bob Moosbrugger said the Big Ten's decision "is the tip of the iceberg."

Illinois State was scheduled to play at Illinois on Sept. 4.

"Obviously, we are disappointed by the decision, as there are many people affiliated with both universities that have had this game circled on their calendars for a long time," Illinois State athletic director Larry Lyons said. He said the budget is in a "constant state of flux," but there are no plans to cut sports.

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