Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren reflects on tournament cancellation

Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 1:16pm

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren made the decision to cancel the men's basketball tournament on Thursday.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren made the decision to cancel the men's basketball tournament on Thursday. Buy this photo
Miles Macklin/Daily

INDIANAPOLIS Fifteen minutes before Day Two of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament was set to tip off, commissioner Kevin Warren made a fateful decision — amid fears of the spread of COVID-19, he was going to cancel the tournament.

Among a flurry of tournament and league cancellations across the globe — highlighted by last night’s suspension of the NBA season — the Big Ten was just another domino to fall in the response to the virus.

In making the decision, Warren gathered as much information as he could before making the calls to the relevant athletic directors that the tournament would be cancelled. In order to gather that information, a week or so prior to the tournament, Warren formed a Big Ten infectious disease taskforce that would assess the severity of the crisis. The taskforce acquired information from the 14 member institutions of the Big Ten to evaluate the conference’s next steps.

When a wave of uncertainty about the severity of the spread of the virus reached his ears, Warren made the decision and called Michigan and Rutgers’ athletic directors Warde Manuel and Patrick Hobbs that their 12 p.m. game would not commence.

From there, the athletic directors told the head coaches, who then gave their team the news.

At the end of the day, the decision came down to worries about the safety of each program’s players, staff and administrators as well as an attempt to skirt accountability in the wake of the virus spreading at one of the Big Ten’s events.

“I always feel strongly that the right thing to do for our student athletes and the media and for our families, our coaches, our administrators was that we cancel the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament,” Warren said. “And I’ve found that over my career, the more complicated decisions are, the more answers is much more simple and that is to always base your decision on what is the right thing to do, and I feel strongly that we have a fiduciary responsibility to our student athletes first and foremost and our coaches and our administrators and our fans to do what is right and what is fair, even if they really do want to continue playing.

“But I think as the administrators … we have a responsibility to make sure that we’re always taking care of the health and wellness and safety of our student-athletes, so the decision was made this morning to cancel the remainder of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

Now, Warren will realistically spend the remainder of his afternoon and coming weeks figuring out what to do with the rest of the Big Ten’s athletic events as well as what to do about rescheduling or crowning future champions.

With the hockey tournament in full swing, decisions have yet to be made whether or not they will continue, although it seems likely they will be cancelled resting on the precedent of the men’s basketball tournament.

As for a champion for this year’s tournament? Well, it appears as if the Big Ten will not follow in the ACC’s footsteps in simply crowning the tournament’s No. 1 seed as the champion. Florida State unenthusiastically accepted the ACC title Thursday emitting a wall of blank expressions. 

The last remaining domino to fall in the field of college basketball is the NCAA Tournament. As of now, the tournament remains on schedule, although it will be played without fans. As the situation develops, it’s hard to imagine the NCAA does not follow the lead set by its member conferences and allows the tournament to continue.

Warren even spoke with NCAA Commissioner Mark Emmert prior to his decision, more out of respect than of consultation, but it is clear there is communication happening between the head of the conferences.

“The only thing that I would offer from an advice standpoint, whether it’s to the NCAA or any other person in my seat, is just make sure you put the student athletes at the epicenter of your decision,” Warren said. “And if you do that, I think you’ll be able to come to the right decision.”

Throughout the press conference, Warren echoed his opening statements about the source of the decision and stressed a commitment to the safety of everyone involved in the college basketball machine.

“First and foremost, we need to make sure that we protect the health and safety of you all, of our student athletes, our administrators, of our fans and I wish I knew more information,” Warren said. “This is a fluid situation. I can’t recall the last time we had a pandemic like we do here, so it’s really important that we’re thoughtful. And if it comes down that I overreacted, or we overreacted, I’m comfortable with that. But I think as I sit here today, in these kinds of situations, you can never overreact from a safety standpoint and I think we needed to go to the highest level to give us a chance to deal with this acute problem.”