Big Ten pulls plug on all conference, non-conference competitions through academic year

By Meghan Rest, Sports Editor

The Big Ten announced the cancellation of the men’s basketball tournament and all conference and non-conference competitions through the end of the academic year, the league announced Thursday afternoon in a press release. Illinois’s men’s basketball program, which earned the fourth seed in the Big Ten tournament was scheduled to play Friday at approximately 2:30 p.m. The program was also poised to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years.

“The Big Ten Conference announced today that in addition to the Men’s Basketball Tournament it will be canceling all conference and non-conference competitions through the end of the academic year, including spring sports that compete beyond the academic year, and participation in all NCAA tournaments and competitions. In addition, the Conference has announced a moratorium on all on- and off-campus recruiting activities for the foreseeable future,” The Big Ten said in a press release.

The announcement follows a string of cancelations and suspensions by college programs and professional sports organizations. Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman also released a statement later Thursday afternoon.

“These last 24 hours have been heartbreaking,” Whitman said. “I have such respect and appreciation for our student-athletes, coaches, and staff. I watch every day with admiration as they strengthen their bodies, their minds, and their relationships, all in the pursuit of excellence. There is so much work and sacrifice that occurs away from the eyes of the public, so much effort given so that they shine in those precious few moments each year when the lights come on, the cameras come into focus, and the stakes are high. Today, in what has been perhaps the most challenging day of my professional career, we took away those moments for a significant number of our student-athletes. I know they are devastated; I am as well.

“The hardest decisions require you to resolve inner conflict between what you value most and what you value at the moment. Like many of you, I enjoy nothing more than watching our young men and women compete in the orange and blue. What we value most, however, is our students. And at the end of the day, we must act in the best interests of their health and well-being – and, in this case, in the best interests of the health of our local, regional, and national communities as well. As much as I want our student-athletes to experience the joy of competition, feel the euphoria of victory, and learn from the despair of defeat, recent events are an important reminder that life is bigger than sports. Our focus remains on being healthy, contributing members of our many overlapping communities as we work collectively to address the challenges presented by this terrible virus.

“With the situation being so fluid and events happening so quickly, our plans are evolving. We will have multiple touch points with our student-athletes over the next 24 hours to discuss this decision and its ramifications, to hear their questions and concerns, and to provide comfort and closure as we begin to move forward. For the people most intimately involved in our programs, the wounds caused by the necessity of today’s decision will not heal overnight, but we are committed to growing closer together as an Illini family, supporting each other through these difficult moments, and emerging stronger on the other side.”

The Big Ten and other Power Five athletic conferences across the country cited growing concerns for the virus behind all recent, major decisions.

“The Big Ten Conference will use this time to work with the appropriate medical experts and institutional leadership to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic,” The Big Ten said in a press release. “The main priority of the Big Ten Conference continues to be the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, fans and media as we continue to monitor all developing and relevant information on the COVID-19 virus.”

Editor’s Note: This story is on-going and will be updated to reflect new developments. This story was updated at 6 p.m. on Thursday. 

@meghan_rest

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