Carlo Kemp isn’t on social media, so he didn’t see the petition Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields circulated this week. Signed by 281,000 people as of Wednesday afternoon, it asks the Big Ten to reinstate the fall football season. Told about it, Kemp had a question.
“Where is it?”
“There’s people that want to play and there are people that are willing to accept or take on the risk we talked about being able to play,” Kemp, a fifth-year defensive tackle, said. “However many votes it has, it doesn’t matter, but it shows you that athletes want to play and people want to play football. Hearing and listening to that, I do think there’s a way this could have been done.”
In a lot of ways, that sums up the criticism many players, parents and coaches have for the Big Ten right now. They want to play. And they feel their voices weren’t heard in the process.
The Big Ten isn’t standing alone in calling things off — the majority of the FBS has, and the FCS schedule has been reduced to a handful of guarantee games. But it is the only conference that’s suffered a complete, unmitigated public relations disaster because of its decision. The timing, just days after a conference-only schedule was released, was poor. The reasoning wasn’t explained clearly. It’s been over a week and it’s still unclear whether school presidents actually took a formal vote, and if so, what the count was — not just to the public, but to the conference's own athletic directors.
“If you’re going to affect someone’s livelihood, I think it’s really important that you hear from them,” Kemp said. “Personally, I do think we should’ve been heard. I think there were some great efforts to get that done. I think people did go to good lengths to hear from their student athletes. But it’s just the tip and you’re hoping that more can be done in the future.
“Do student athletes want to play, do they not want to play, and I think that should really influence the decision a little bit more. And then hearing how we feel right now is where I go back to this limbo that we’re in. The decision was made and we’re just expected to go along with it. A lot of things change once you do that, and I don’t think that was really taken into consideration how a lot of this stuff gets affected going forward.”
Student-athletes aren’t paid, but no season means they won’t have a chance to show their skills to NFL teams. It means guys who weren’t on the NFL radar won’t get a chance to put themselves there. As Heisman winner and No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow tweeted, that would have been him a year ago.
When coach Jim Harbaugh broke the news to the team that the season had been postponed, some players cried, fifth-year senior tight end Nick Eubanks said. Others just thought about what’s next — a question that still doesn’t have an answer.
The Big Ten might try to play a spring season, but there’s been no plan developed — let alone released — as of yet. To the outside world, it looks like the conference didn’t plan for the possibility of a cancellation until it actually made the decision to cancel.
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Eubanks and Kemp both made the same points as Harbaugh did last week in a statement advocating for a fall season. Michigan followed the protocols, had low rates of infection and felt they could have continued to do so during the season. Whether it would have withstood the return of students to campus, and whether other schools would have been as successful, is unclear. They would have liked the chance to find out.
“Honestly I think we could’ve did the same thing for our conference as well as other conferences,” Eubanks said. “It’s quite frustrating. A lot of guys had a lot riding on this season coming up. Just for it to get shut down, it really hurts a lot of teammates and players.”
It hasn’t quite hit Kemp yet, the idea that while he’s on his couch during Saturdays this fall, he might be watching other college football games. The idea that guys might get a season while he doesn’t. He’s just trying to work on his game with the limitations in place, coming into Schembechler Hall and practicing whenever allowed.
“I hope all the information is being distributed and talked about throughout the conferences, not just for football reasons, but for safety,” Kemp said. “If we’ve canceled, you want to make sure that the remaining players in the other three conferences are as safe, as well.”