Big Ten College Football Will Start Next Month After All, Boosting Fall TV Inventory

About-face gives marketers additional Q4 GRP options

Photo of a football game
Big Ten teams like Ohio State and Penn State will play this fall after all, now that the conference has reversed course on its decision to postpone the college football season. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Key Insight:

Just one month after the Big Ten conference opted to postpone its fall sports seasons—including college football—due to Covid-19, it has reversed course and will begin playing football games starting next month.

This morning, the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors said in a statement that it voted unanimously to resume the football season, beginning the weekend of Oct. 23-24. The decision includes the adoption of “significant medical protocols, including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition.”

The about-face will boost the fall TV inventory, restoring additional GRPs to marketers in an upended fourth quarter. It will also provide a big lift to Fox Sports, which broadcasts Big Ten football games and had been left with several major holes in its schedule as a result of the postponement.

The Big Ten—which includes Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska—said it will require student athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals who are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing, which will begin by Sept. 30.

“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students. The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference,” Morton Schapiro, chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University president, said in a statement.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren added in a statement, “Our focus with the Task Force over the last six weeks was to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes. Our goal has always been to return to competition so all student-athletes can realize their dream of competing in the sports they love.”

The Big Ten conference said it will use data provided by each university’s chief infection officer to make decisions about the continuation of practice and competition, as determined by team positivity rate and population positivity rate, based on a seven-day rolling average. For example, if a team has a positive test rate higher than 5%, all of its practices and games must stop for at least seven days.

The college football postponements, and the continued uncertainty about when scripted series can return to production and on air, upended the available gross ratings points (GRPs) for marketers in the fourth quarter. The return of Big Ten games to the schedule gives marketers additional options for impressions.

Fox Sports had no immediate comment on today’s news, but the company told Adweek earlier this month that some of its Big Ten football advertisers had shifted their spend to the company’s NFL and MLB games following last month’s postponement.

“There definitely was some college football money shifted to NFL, but the unit cost of NFL is obviously significantly higher than college football. And a lot of the marketing elements that some clients have in college football can’t be attained through NFL given some of the guidelines and restrictions,” Carrie Drinkwater, executive director of integrated investments at Mediahub, recently told Adweek.

On Aug. 11, the Big Ten and fellow Power 5 conference Pac-12 postponed its seasons as a result of the pandemic, a decision that left nearly $1.7 billion in overall college football ad revenue hanging in the balance. In an open letter a week later, commissioner Warren said the decision to postpone the fall sports “will not be revisited.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.