Big Ten moving to conference-only schedule for 2020

Wisconsin won’t be playing Notre Dame this fall. In fact, the Badgers won’t be playing any non-conference games.

The Big Ten announced Thursday that it is going to a conference-only schedule for all fall sports, including football.

We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority.

To that end, the Big Ten Conference announced today that if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports. Details for these sports will be released at a later date, while decisions on sports not listed above will continue to be evaluated. 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.

This decision was made following many thoughtful conversations over several months between the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors, Directors of Athletics, Conference Office staff, and medical experts including the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.

In addition, the Conference announced that summer athletic activities will continue to be voluntary in all sports currently permitted to engage in such activities. Furthermore, Big Ten student-athletes who choose not to participate in intercollegiate athletics at any time during the summer and/or the 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.

While Big Ten member institutions continue to rely on the most up-to-date medical information to establish the best protocols for voluntary workouts on their campuses, in compliance with local and state regulations, the Conference is working with the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee to finalize Conference-wide protocols.

As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate.

Commissioner Kevin Warren admitted on the Big Ten Network that the move to a conference-only schedule doesn’t mean sports are guaranteed to happen.

We may not have sports in the fall. We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten,” Warren told the network. “We just wanted to make sure this was the next logical step to try and rely on our medical experts to keep our student-athletes at the center of all our decisions and make sure they are as healthy as they can possibly be from a mental, physical and emotional wellness standpoint.”

For Wisconsin, it means the game against the Fighting Irish at Lambeau Field on Oct. 3 won’t be played. It was the first half of a two-game, neutral site series between the two schools, with the second game set to take place at Soldier Field in Chicago next season. Both schools announced they were committed to playing the game next season and rescheduling the game in Green Bay.

If that is to happen, Wisconsin would have to make room on its schedule. The Badgers already have the three non-conference games they play set through 2025.

Under the new setup, the Badgers also won’t host Southern Illinois on Sept. 12 or Appalachian State on Sept. 19 at Camp Randall Stadium.

Wisconsin releases updated COVID-19 numbers for athletes

Five more Wisconsin athletes have tested positive for COVID-19.

The school released updated figures Wednesday.

“UW Athletics first tested student-athletes a month ago on June 8. Among 117 student-athletes who were part of the initial group tested, two tested positive. The department has continued its regular testing regimen and has now conducted a total of 428 COVID-19 tests, resulting in seven student-athletes testing positive.”

Wisconsin welcomed back the football and volleyball teams in the first week of June and both squads started voluntary workouts the week of June 15.

At least eight football programs across the country have paused the voluntary workouts as a result of an increased number of COVID-19 cases, the latest being North Carolina on Wednesday.

The NCAA approved a revamped preseason schedule for football players in June. It included the start of mandatory workouts for players 25 days before the first permitted fall camp practice. For Wisconsin, that would be July 12.

The Badgers are scheduled to open the season Sept. 4 against Indiana at Camp Randall Stadium.

Wisconsin-Northwestern game at Wrigley Field postponed

Wisconsin won’t be playing at Wrigley Field this fall.

Northwestern announced Wednesday that the game between the Badgers and Wildcats set for Nov. 7 had been postponed due to the uncertainty around the football season as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a disappointing conclusion to reach, but absolutely the right one in our current environment,” Vice President for Athletics & Recreation Jim Phillips said in a school release. “The uncertainty of football and baseball schedules, and the possibility of limited attendance, made this an easy choice to make for our student-athletes and fans. We’re grateful for our outstanding partners from the Cubs, and look forward to bringing the passion and pageantry of college football gameday to the city’s north side when we can do so safely and securely with a packed house.”

Now, the game will, if played, happen in Evanston at Ryan Field.

Wisconsin is slated to open the season at home against Indiana on Sept. 4.

JJ Watt, Jared Abbrederis on BTN All-Decade Team

JJ Watt played just one year in the 2010s but it was still good enough to earn him All-Decade honors from the Big Ten Network.

The All-American defensive end was one of four players named to the first team along the defensive line. Watt’s lone year was 2010 when he helped Wisconsin to its first Big Ten title since 1999. He did it by racking up 21 tackles for loss, which at the time was the sixth-most in a single season by a UW player. He added seven sacks, eight pass breakups, three forced fumbles and three blocked kicks.

Watt was joined on the first team by Ohio State standouts Joey Bosa and Chase Young, as well as Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan.

Another Wisconsin star, Jared Abbrederis, was a second-team pick at wide receiver. In his four years with the Badgers, which included three Big Ten titles, the former walk-on had 202 catches (tied for 1st in UW history), 3,140 yards (2nd in UW history) and 23 touchdowns (tied for 2nd in UW history).

With BTN still to unveil the quarterbacks, kickers and punters, here are the Wisconsin players honored so far:

Running Back
Jonathan Taylor (1st team)
Melvin Gordon (2nd team)

Wide Receiver
Jared Abbrederis (2nd team)

Offensive Line
Michael Deiter (1st team)
Gabe Carimi (2nd team)
Kevin Zeitler (2nd team)

Defensive Line
JJ Watt (1st team)

Chris Borland (1st team)
TJ Watt (2nd team)

The game former Badgers standout Ethan Happ can’t forget

Ethan Happ was a part of a lot of wins at Wisconsin. He redshirted as the Badgers made their run to the 2015 national title game and then went on to start four years, leading UW to three NCAA tournaments. Memorable victories in that stretch included a buzzer-beating win over Xavier in the 2016 tournament, taking down top-seeded Villanova in the following spring and home victories over Michigan and Purdue that resulted in fans storming the court. But that is not the game that is the most memorable to three-time first-team All-Big Ten performer. No, it’s the crushing loss at the hands of Florida in the 2017 Sweet 16.

Here’s what Happ told ESPN about that game:

“I got it on my board at my home, the final box score of the Florida game in the 2017 Sweet 16. Chris Chiozza hit that one-footed runner at the buzzer. That game will always hurt me the most because one of the biggest things was that I got to play with those seniors [Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter]. We beat Villanova, the No. 1 seed, and we were on our way to beating Florida, barring something crazy. South Carolina, which we would have played next, in terms of the bracket, is who you would want to play, and we felt confident we could get to the Final Four that year.

“It stung. I still have that thing on my bulletin board. You can look at it how you want. Everyone has their own opinion. It’s easy for people on Twitter to say things, but if Chiozza doesn’t make this miraculous shot, no one says a word [of criticism]. No part of us thought we were going to walk through Florida. KeVaughn Allen was hot, and he kept hitting shots. C’mon, man — I just stopped having nightmares and you want to ask me about this? We should have won that game. I’m sure Florida would say the same thing. But in a seven-game series, we’re winning that series.”

ESPN caught up with a number of guys getting ready to play in the The Basketball Tournament this summer and that included Happ, who will play for Team Hines.

Four Badgers named to B1G All-Decade team

Wisconsin produced quite a few All-Americans over the last decade and a number of them were honored by the Big Ten Network on Monday.

Twenty-four experts voted on the best players at each position in the conference over the last decade and are releasing the results over the next five days. First up was the running backs and linebackers.

The Badgers picked up two spots at each position. Jonathan Taylor was named to the first team at running back, while Melvin Gordon was a second-team pick.

Then, Chris Borland earned first-team honors and TJ Watt was a second-team selection at linebacker.

Former Penn State star Saquon Barkley was the other first-team running back, while Borland was joined by Iowa’s Josey Jewel and Michigan’s Devin Bush at linebacker with the first team.

You can find more information about BTN’s All-Decade teams here.

Wisconsin adds cornerback in 2021 recruiting class

Wisconsin added to the defense with its latest commitment in the 2021 class.

Cornerback Ricardo Hallman (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) announced his commitment Monday afternoon.

A three-star recruit, Hallman is rated as the No. 44 CB in the country and the 85th-best player in the talent-rich state of Florida.

The 6-foot, 183-pound Hallman chose Wisconsin over 15 other scholarship offers, including Arkansas, Louisville, Cincinnati and others.

Hallman’s commitment gives the Badgers 15 commits in the 2021 class. Before Hallman’s announcement, the class was ranked No. 13 in the country and No. 4 in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin announces first results of COVID-19 testing for athletes

The Wisconsin Athletic Department revealed Monday that two student-athletes have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a press release, the school tested 117 athletes as part of its initial campus screening when athletes started to return to campus earlier this month. Those tests revealed the two positives.

The two athletes that tested positive are now self-isolating and UW is monitoring their recovery. The university is following local public health guidelines on reporting and contract tracing to locate those that may have come into contact with them.

The school is not announcing the names of those that tested positive or the sports they played. Officials do plan to continue to release the aggregate number of positive tests on a regular basis.

Wisconsin started the initial phase of its return to campus plan on June 8 with football and volleyball players allowed back. All were tested for the virus prior to starting voluntary workouts June 15. The plan called for the basketball and hockey teams to return later in June.

Former Wisconsin guard Kobe King won’t play at Nebraska

Kobe King’s time at Nebraska is over before it began.

The former Wisconsin guard told coach Fred Hoiberg he would not be joining the Huskers.

“Kobe King has informed us that he will not be attending the University of Nebraska for personal reasons,” Hoiberg said in a statement. “We respect his decision and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

King, Wisconsin’s leading scorer in Big Ten play last season, left the Badgers in late January. He said at the time that he no longer felt like a fit at the school or within the program.

With two years of eligibility left, King entered the transfer portal and eventually picked Nebraska in late February over Iowa State and others. He did not visit Lincoln before committing.

The end of King’s time in Madison was not pretty, as he told the Wisconsin State Journal that he didn’t like the way coach Greg Gard spoke to the team, that he was only being used to win games and that he felt like a servant.

In his two-plus years at Wisconsin, King averaged 10.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists.

After he left, the Badgers caught fire, including winning their final eight games. It allowed them to capture a share of the Big Ten title and Gard was named Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Fans at Wisconsin games this year? AD Barry Alvarez says that’s ‘up in the air right now’

Wisconsin is scheduled to open the 2020 football season at Camp Randall Stadium against Indiana on the night of Sept. 4. With COVID-19 still having a significant impact on the country, it remains to be seen what exactly that will look like.

During a virtual town hall for season-ticket holders on Thursday, athletic director Barry Alvarez said the date for making a concrete decision is fast approaching.

“We have to be getting closer because our kids are going to be reporting for camp in a few weeks,” Alvarez said. “I think we’ll have some answers after the Fourth of July. We’re going to have to. A lot of discussions, a lot of areas that we have to make tough decisions on.”

Among those tough decisions will be whether to allow fans into the stadium, and if they are allowed, how do they decide who gets in.

“You hate to keep pushing these questions off, but there’s no way we can answer that,” said Alvarez, who also noted that he could foresee each Big Ten venue being different. “There’s nothing like 80,000 in (Camp Randall Stadium) on game day Saturday. It’s been called one of the greatest game day atmospheres in the country. That’s our ideal. Where we’ll be — the number, the percentage, the social distancing — that’s up in the air right now. That’s to be answered.”

The Badgers do have plans in place but aren’t focusing on any particular one at this point.

“We’ve put all our effort behind developing plans for each of those scenarios and virtually no effort in predicting which one of those scenarios will emerge,” deputy AD Chris McIntosh said.

McIntosh admitted that if they do end up allowing fans, and it’s at a reduced capacity, there will be some tough decisions on who exactly gets to go into the stadium.

“The scenarios that we could be faced with, we’ve never been faced with. That will require flexibility on all our parts,” McIntosh said. “It’s likely that we’ll have to put forth some creative solutions that will likely be impossible to make everybody happy. We’ll do the best we can. That’s our vow or our pledge to those that have supported for such a long time.”

Players back on campus

For the first time in quite a while, Alvarez had the pleasure of looking out his office window at the stadium this week and seeing athletes on the turf as voluntary workouts got underway. Their appearance came as a result of an extensive plan to bring athletes back to campus after being away for close to three months due to the virus.

“We view this as the first of many steps to a fall with seasons as we’ve grown accustomed,” McIntosh said. “Fall camp for football, preseasons for our other sports. This is the world we live in now.”

All the players were tested for COVID-19 upon their return and McIntosh called the process “meticulous.” They’ll continue to go through the voluntary workouts until July 12. At that point, due to a vote by the Division 1 Council on Wednesday, those workouts can become mandatory. Then, for two weeks starting July 22, the team will be allowed on the field for walkthroughs. Finally, the normal preseason camp can get underway Aug. 5.

“Our athletes are probably more fired up than they have ever been to get back on campus and get working toward the season,” McIntosh said.

Notre Dame at Lambeau Field

There was a report earlier this month that Wisconsin’s game on Oct. 3 against Notre Dame at Lambeau Field wasn’t going to happen. Then, Irish coach Brian Kelly threw gas on the fire by saying in an interview that they were exploring moving games out of NFL stadiums and back to campus. If that’s the case, they haven’t informed the Badgers about it.

“To date, we have yet to have any conversations with Notre Dame about changing the game,” Alvarez said. “As of right now, it’s status quo.”

Cutting sports?

Schools around the country are cutting sports at an alarming rate due to budget restraints, which in some cases is directly related to COVID-19. It could get much worse if the football season is not played, as a lot of schools use football to prop up the rest of the athletic department.

Wisconsin has put together a number of budgets for various scenarios, including the doomsday of no football. But cutting any of the 22 other sports isn’t currently on the menu.

“Cutting sports, we have not even discussed that. We’ve not even considered that at this point,” Alvarez said. “I think we’ve done a very conscientious and a good job of managing our finances over quite a few years.

“As we move forward, if attendance and TV contracts and all those things change, they’ll affect our budget. Our people have really several different budgets planned according to what’s going to happen. We try to be proactive about what possibly could happen, so we’re prepared to move in that direction when it does. Cutting sports is not something we’re considering.”