On Thursday afternoon, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren made one thing clear: nothing is set in stone.
The press conference followed a statement by the Big Ten saying fall sports would be restricted to a conference-only schedule.
“One of the things that was most important to us was the flexibility of scheduling all the operations,” Warren said in an interview on the Big Ten Network. “It’s much easier if we’re just working with our Big Ten institutions from a scheduling standpoint, from a traveling standpoint, all of those issues that go into having our student athletes compete.”
He stressed that all decisions have been made with the safety and wellbeing of student athletes at the forefront.
With the national situation constantly evolving, Warren and his staff believe canceling non-conference competition will give athletes “the best chance to play,” but canceling the fall sports season altogether remains on the table. Meaning, the announcement should be looked at more as an ‘if’ the season happens than a ‘when.’
Flexibility was stressed as a major factor in the Big Ten’s decisions. With the change, the conference will retain the ability to schedule games as they see fit, dictate travel and implement uniform testing policies. The conference will extend that flexibility to student athletes, honoring the scholarships of any athlete who decides not to participate in the season due to COVID-19.
The announcement is the product of many hours of communication between the conferences’ coaches, presidents, chancellors and conference administrators. Warren said a new Big Ten football is in the works, but fans shouldn’t hold their breath. Testing procedures have to be finalized, networks contacted and medical professionals consulted with.
It’s one thing to revamp an entire fall season from an office. It’s another matter entirely to orchestrate that change over Zoom.
Warren said he’s been in daily contact with athletic directors and has talked to football coaches weekly. They hoped to get the decision out as soon as possible in an effort to remain transparent.
“When you sit in a seat like this, you always have to make sure that you are always preparing for the what-if scenarios, many of which may never come to fruition,” Warren said. “They may just end up in a binder or a desk drawer or saved on a computer somewhere.”
With the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise, the “what-if” scenarios are coming into play. Regardless of what the coming weeks or months bring, the Big Ten is clear in its priorities.
“We’ll keep putting our student-athletes at the top of our list,” Warren said. “And we’ll always make sure we look out for them and make sure they are keeping safe.”