Northwestern's Ryan Field. (Google Maps)

Citing concerns over the ongoing coronovarius pandemic, the Big Ten Conference today said fall sports will be restricted to conference games only.  For Northwestern, that means three non-conference football games, all at home, are wiped out.

That includes the scheduled home opener against Tulane on Sept. 12, the Central Michigan game on Sept. 19, and Morgan State on Nov. 14.

Four Big Ten home games remain for now, but the conference is holding out the possibility that all fall sports will be cancelled.

In a statement issued this afternoon, the conference said, “We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times.”  By limiting games to Big Ten rivals only, the conference said it would have “greater flexibility” to adjust operations throughout the season.

Northwestern Athletics spokesperson Ray O’Connell says NU “fully supports” the conference’s action.

Football is not the only sport impacted. Also going to Conference-only contests are men’s and women’s cross country and soccer, field hockey and women’s volleyball. Other fall sports not listed in today’s statement are “being evaluated.”

The City of Evanston would likely lose around $150,000 in ticket tax revenue for each of the three cancelled non-conference games, assuming they had been played with fans in the stands.Non-conference games tend to draw smaller crowds than do Big Ten contests, so the ticket tax collection is lower.

The Big Ten statement contains some rather ominous words about the likelihood of fall sports being played. In outlining the Big Ten-only policy, the statement says the Big Ten games will be played “if the conference is able to participate in fall sports”

While saying the league is focusing on playing in a medically safe and responsible manner, the statement continues, “We are prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety, and wellness of our student athletes should the circumstances so dictate.”

Earlier this week, the Ivy League cancelled all fall sports.

Update 7/20/20 10:45 a.m.: Northwestern has also withdrawn its request for the Evanston City Council to approve a permit for football parking and tailgating on the Canal Shores Golf Course that the school was seeking from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. The permit would have applied for games starting this fall and running through the 2024 season.

The school presumably could reapply for the permit once the future of the football program during the pandemic becomes more clear.

The Council had been scheduled to vote on the request next Monday. Action on the permit had been delayed over concerns about whether the non-profit that operates the golf course would share in the revenue from the tailgating program.

The golf course land is leased by the city from the MWRD which it turn subleases it to the Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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