Big Ten's decision to drop nonconference games costs NIU matchups with Maryland, Iowa

Just what the Northern Illinois University football season ultimately looks like seems uncertain right now, given the COVID-19 pandemic – but it's definitely down two games.

That is after the Big Ten Conference announced on Thursday that it was limiting all fall sports competitions to conference opponents.

That eliminates NIU's scheduled games at Maryland Sept. 12 and at Iowa Sept. 26. It's two of the 11 games the Mid-American Conference lost with Big Ten opponents. Central Michigan, Bowling Green and Ball State from the MAC also had two games scheduled against Big Ten opponents.

According to the Detroit Free Press, MAC schools stand to lose more than $10.5 million from games against Big Ten teams.

The Big Ten's announcement was the second this week, coronavirus-related, to affect NIU football's schedule.

On Wednesday, NIU announced that it was moving its Oct. 24 game with Brigham Young University back to Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. The game was originally scheduled for SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.

Because of restrictive stadium capacity limits and safety measures set in place by the state of Illinois during the COVID-19 pandemic, NIU and Bridgeview officials agreed to move the game out of SeatGeek Stadium.

NIU is now scheduled to play six home games and four road games, with nonconference games against Rhode Island Sept. 5 and BYU Oct. 24.

NIU football players returned to campus for voluntary workouts in groups of 10 on June 15.

“Since March, we have had to remain nimble, adapt to changing circumstances and make contingencies to address all potential situations," NIU athletic director Sean Frazier said in a statement. "We continue to do so following Thursday’s announcement by the Big Ten that impacts our 2020 football schedule.

“We all want college athletics to return this fall, to have fans in the stands and to gather and compete. At this point, our staff is still preparing for games to take place at NIU this fall."

MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said on Thursday that he was surprised at the timing of the Big Ten's announcement. The MAC could potentially lose four more nonconference games should the Atlantic Coast Conference follow the Big Ten's lead and drop nonconference opponents this fall, as has been reported as a likely scenario by Brett McMurphy of the Stadium Network.

"Our interest was in playing a full schedule," Steinbrecher told the Detroit Free Press. "We know everybody is examining all sorts of things, but I did not expect this decision quite so soon."