Football: Fitzgerald reacts to conference-only fall schedule

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Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Coach Pat Fitzgerald talks to his players from the sideline. Fitzgerald spoke to Dave Revsine (Weinberg ’91) of Big Ten Network Thursday night about the impact of the Big Ten’s conference-only schedule on Northwestern’s football program.

Drew Schott, Reporter


Football


Coach Pat Fitzgerald expressed approval of the Big Ten’s decision to play a conference-only football season and discussed transparency between Northwestern football coaches, players and their families Thursday night on Big Ten Network.

“I applaud the Big Ten conference, Commissioner (Kevin) Warren, and the administrators and our presidents, chancellors and (athletic directors) for really being thoughtful and working with our doctors throughout the Big Ten conference,” Fitzgerald said over the phone to BTN’s Dave Revsine (Weinberg ’91). “We as coaches have been asked to engage our student-athletes and really share their voices… and work to find a way that if we can play the most safe way possible and this was a step in that direction today.”

Recently, Fitzgerald has worked with the Wildcats’ Unity Council — a group of NU players from various position groups — to gauge athletes’ comfort levels in playing if medical experts give the green light on a season. Additionally, he took questions from players and their families through the council.

Heading into his 15th season, the Cats’ head coach brought their queries to team medical staff and shared the experts’ answers during a team-wide Zoom meeting.

Fitzgerald said he will likely have a Zoom call with players’ families to discuss the Big Ten’s decision on the 2020 season. Throughout the virtual offseason, he has spoken with parents directly. Additionally, Fitzgerald said the program’s “parent group” has a daily, direct line of communication to Director of Player Development and Football Relations Jacob Schmidt (SESP ’11, ’14).

“It’s full transparency and you just try to be there as much as you possibly can,” Fitzgerald said. “You try to do the best job you can communicating. You know, just appreciate our families and I’m sure it’s the same for my other 13 brothers here in the Big Ten with their teams.”

Despite the Big Ten’s announcement, Warren is unsure that a fall season will definitely happen.

“One thing we have to realize is that this is not a fait accompli that we’re going to have sports in the fall,” Warren said Thursday afternoon on BTN. “We may not have sports in the fall, we may not have a college football season in the Big Ten.”

Fitzgerald said infectious disease experts and epidemiologists will likely make the final decision on the 2020 season. He said the conference is currently figuring out its “policies and procedures” from coordinating team travel to deciding how many players and coaches can safely be on the field at one time.

According to Fitzgerald, his players in Evanston feel very safe at NU’s facilities thanks to the Cats’ “cutting-edge” testing procedures and onboarding processes. He added that the team’s “summer access” workouts, which start Monday, are voluntary and that the program will “communicate… and act accordingly and fully 100 percent support our student-athletes.”

Earlier today, the Big Ten announced that any athlete who does not participate athletically during the summer or the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 worries “will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.”

A conference-only schedule, according to Fitzgerald, gives NU more flexibility to coordinate games. Warren said this afternoon that more information about a new ten-game schedule will come out within “the next week or so.” According to Adam Rittenberg (Medill ’03) — a senior college football writer for ESPN — the conference will prioritize matchups between division opponents early on in the season in case the 2020 campaign is interrupted.

As of July 9, there is no football schedule on NUSports.com. The Cats’ previous lineup included Big Ten games against Michigan State, Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland, Iowa, Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota and in-state rival Illinois, as well as non-conference matchups against Tulane, Central Michigan and Morgan State.

According to The Athletic, the Pac-12 conference will likely follow the Big Ten’s lead and move to a conference-only fall schedule. The Big 12 conference said it’s “a little early” to make a decision on their schedule and will wait to make a final decision on the 2020 season, according to CBS Sports. Additionally, the Atlantic Coast conference — who early Thursday delayed all fall sports to Sept. 1 — and the Southeastern conference have yet to make a formal decision regarding their seasons.

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