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Big Ten releases 2020 schedule, but cautions season not guaranteed; here are UM, MSU highlights

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

There are unique changes to a unique 10-game Big Ten football season, including the Michigan-Ohio State game, traditionally played the final week of the regular season, moving to October and the Michigan-Michigan State game, which was to be played at MSU, moved to Ann Arbor.

The Big Ten, which last month announced its members would play conference-only games in all fall sports as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed the 10-game football schedules Wednesday morning, as well as its testing protocols, while cautioning the season isn't guaranteed to be played.

Each team is scheduled to play six divisional games and four crossovers with games split evenly home and away. The schedule includes two byes for every team and four weeks of built-in scheduling flexibility.

The Big Ten released its conference schedule Wednesday morning.

Preseason camp will open Friday.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, who appeared on the Big Ten Network after the schedule release, repeatedly cautioned that having a schedule does not guarantee the season will be played.

“It would be purely speculation for me to sit here today and say this is what percent I think we’ll have a season,” Warren said on BTN.

“I know from my standpoint I’m taking this entire process, this entire journey on a day-to-day basis.”

Warren said the flexibility of the schedule is “critically important." 

Several Big Ten schools, including Michigan State and Ohio State, and more recently, Rutgers and Northwestern, have paused football workouts because of positive COVID tests.

More: Big Ten football players unite, call for better COVID-19 protocols

“This will not be a straight line this year,” he said. “Again, we’ve released schedule, but we’ve done it in the context of we have to play ahead, but we understand we are in a pandemic, we’re doing the best we can possibly can to create an environment where our student-athletes can get a world-class education at one of our institutions, but also if we’re so fortunate, that compete in intercollegiate athletics here this fall. We need to make sure the health and safety and the wellness remain at the top of our list.”

Football teams will have a minimum of two COVID surveillance tests per week during the season and will be managed by a third-party laboratory, Warren said, to provide “consistency and credibility." All other sports will be tested once a week. Each school will continue to handle testing through preseason camp.

Wednesday's Big Ten announcement came the same morning Connecticut became the first FBS school to cancel the 2020 football season.

"While a final decision by the Big Ten will come in the coming weeks, I am pleased that today’s preliminary football schedule release will help our student-athletes, coaches, and community members begin planning for the possibility of a season," Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement. 

"Our focus remains on the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff, and for all individuals who will be on our campus and in our facilities this fall. We will continue working with medical experts within the Michigan community, as well as leading local, state, and national colleagues in planning for a health-informed start of training and competition."

More: Michigan State DE Jacub Panasiuk opts out of season over virus concerns

Games would begin the weekend of Sept. 3-5 — Ohio State opens the season Sept. 3 at Illinois — and the season is expected to end Nov. 21, a week before Thanksgiving. Students will leave campus for Thanksgiving break, complete their coursework remotely and are not returning until January.

Michigan opens at home against Purdue, and Michigan State also will open at home against Minnesota.The Wolverines will play Minnesota for the first time in three years with the Little Brown Jug on the line the following week on the road Sept. 12, while the Spartans, entering their first-season under head coach Mel Tucker, will travel to Maryland. 

Michigan and Michigan State will go on the road for the final game of the season, both added opponents in the new 10-game configuration. The Wolverines will play at Northwestern on Nov. 21, while Michigan State travels to Nebraska.

“The release of the Big Ten football schedule allows us to move forward in our planning for the upcoming season, both as a football team and as an athletic department," Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman said in a statement. "At the same time, we understand that a schedule does not guarantee that games will be played. As the Big Ten has repeatedly said, we are prepared to delay or cancel competition pursuant to public health orders or on the recommendation of medical experts. But as it currently stands, we will put our efforts into preparing to host Minnesota on Sept. 5 in Spartan Stadium in a manner which prioritizes the health and safety of the teams, staffs, and, if they are permitted to attend, our fans."

The Michigan-Ohio State game has traditionally been played the final week of the regular season since 1942. Michigan, however, played at Hawaii in 1986 and 1998 to conclude its regular season both of those years. The Wolverines will face Purdue, Penn State, MSU, Wisconsin and Maryland at home. Michigan State will play Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Rutgers and Indiana at Spartan Stadium.

Their bye weeks are Oct. 10 and Nov. 14.

The shift of the Michigan State-Michigan game from Spartan Stadium to Michigan Stadium is the first move toward a change in future schedules. Beekman indicated that the 2021 matchup will be played in East Lansing, meaning the Michigan and Ohio State home games will be played in opposite seasons. In recent years, Michigan State has hosted the Wolverines and the Buckeyes in the same season, creating a loaded home slate every other year.

“I know there has been a lot of attention given to our scheduled game against the University of Michigan being flipped from Spartan Stadium to Ann Arbor," Beekman said. "This is one of six games which were flipped in location throughout the conference, including our game against Indiana. The Big Ten has indicated that the rotation of these games in future seasons will be reset based on this year’s location, meaning we will host Michigan in 2021 at Spartan Stadium, while playing on the road at Indiana. Playing this year’s game at Michigan provides us with a drivable road game on our schedule, which will provide some cost containment."

Michigan last month announced it would not sell tickets to the general public this season. In a release Wednesday, Michigan said ticket information will be determined in the near future “if medical experts and government agencies allow for fans at home games.” Michigan State also has not released information regarding tickets for the upcoming football season.

Recently, Maryland and Ohio State have said they will open the season without fans.

The Big Ten Championship game remains scheduled for Dec. 5 in Indianapolis, but could be moved as late as Dec. 19.

Michigan

Sept. 5: vs. Purdue

Sept. 12: at Minnesota

Sept. 19: vs. Penn State

Sept. 26: at Rutgers

Oct. 3: vs. Michigan State

Oct. 10: BYE

Oct. 17: at Indiana

Oct. 24: at Ohio State

Oct. 31: vs. Wisconsin

Nov. 7: vs. Maryland

Nov. 14: BYE

Nov. 21: at Northwestern

Michigan State

Sept. 5: vs. Minnesota

Sept. 12: at Maryland

Sept. 19: vs. Northwestern

Sept. 26: at Penn State

Oct. 3: at Michigan

Oct. 10: BYE

Oct. 17: vs. Ohio State

Oct. 24: vs. Rutgers

Oct. 31: at Iowa

Nov. 7: vs. Indiana

Nov. 14: BYE

Nov. 21: at Nebraska

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis