Photo credit - IU Athletics

As fully-vaccinated programs go on pause, should Big Ten revisit forfeit policy?

One of the college basketball season’s marquee nonconference matchups was suddenly cancelled on Thursday afternoon when it broke Ohio State had multiple cases of COVID-19 within its program.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Ohio State program is fully-vaccinated, and beyond obvious concerns about emerging COVID-19 variants and declining vaccine effectiveness, the incident calls into question the Big Ten’s policy for the 2021-22 season, which provides for forfeiture of league contests rather than rescheduling when teams have cases of the virus.

Here is how that policy reads:

“If a team is unable to participate in a scheduled Conference competition due to COVID-19 and as a result the competition is unable to occur on the calendar day on which it is scheduled, the competition shall be considered a forfeit by the team unable to participate and shall not be rescheduled. In such case, the team unable to participate shall be assessed a “loss,” its opponent a “win,” and Conference standings shall be adjusted accordingly.”

Ohio State is not an isolated incident.  A rapidly growing list of programs that have cancelled games or fully gone on pause also includes Akron, Cornell, Cleveland State, Colorado State, DePaul, Hampton, Loyola Maryland, Penn State, Seton Hall, Syracuse, Texas Southern, Tulane, and UCLA.  Several of those teams and many other programs that have had cases in the last six weeks have been reported to be fully-vaccinated.

It is not known whether every team in the Big Ten is fully vaccinated.  Indiana’s student body is required to be as are others in the conference, so presumably the vaccination rates are very high if not perfect around the league.

The Big Ten’s forfeiture rule was designed to incentivize teams to take every precautionary step available.  And in general, the basketball programs are doing almost everything they can to maintain health and safety.  But it is now clear in the case of Ohio State, even a 100 percent vaccination rate is not the panacea it was once advertised to be.

With that in mind, and the situation quite fluid at the moment, should the league revert back to last year’s policy, and opt for the rescheduling of games whenever possible rather than forfeiture?

It would be unfortunate to hang a loss on a team that had in good-faith attempted to do everything it thought would protect them from having positive cases within their program.

“I think everyone around the league is doing the right thing staying in trying to stay away from people and stuff of that nature, maybe just hanging out with their team and teammates,” Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis said on Friday.

“I mean sometimes you just can’t control if you get the virus or not.  I mean there’s a lot of people out there even that have the vaccine and the new booster shot that still have gotten it.

“I don’t really think it’s necessarily fair for us to cancel or forfeit if we have the boosters and we’re trying to do everything to not get the virus and it just happens, but at the same time you’re always at risk and if that’s what the league is going to do then you just got to live with it.”

For Indiana, Big Ten play resumes on Jan. 2.  Thus far no league games have been forfeited.

But already on Friday a game between Seton Hall and St. John’s was cancelled, and the Big East Conference, with the same rule as the Big Ten, announced that Seton Hall, the team that was forced to cancel, would be tagged with a loss.

According to CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, leagues are open to revisiting the rule in light of the rapidly changing situation.

The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”