On Wednesday afternoon, more than a week after the Big Ten postponed all 2020-21 fall athletics due to COVID-19, first-year conference commissioner Kevin Warren took a second shot at explaining the decision.
His first try came during a Big Ten Network intervew once the official decision was first announced. It was inadequate at best, as Warren offered little by way of the voting process or rationale.
In the week since, the situation has only grown murkier. On Monday, in an interview that epitomized the disconnect between University presidents and athletic administrators, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour told reporters, “It’s unclear where there was ever a vote or not (to postpone the football season).”
Two days later, Michigan State president Samuel Stanley shied away from a similar question regarding the process.
“I’m not comfortable talking fully about the work we did in our conference together,” Stanley said on a call with reporters. “To my mind, it was more of a consensus than a vote. I think the bottom line is we’re united in what we’re doing now.”
Much of the criticism facing the Big Ten leading up to Wednesday harped on the conference’s lack of communication and transparency. The Pac-12, which released a detailed medical report after postponing its fall athletics last week, took proactive measures to avoid such a perception.
So on Wednesday, Warren stepped back into the batter’s box and attempted to set the record straight with an open letter.
In response to an outpour of support for a football season, including a petition started by Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields that has garnered over 280,000 signatures in three days, Warren prefaced his letter with an important clarification.
“The vote by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors was overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited,” Warren wrote. “The decision was thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts.”
As for the decision itself, Warren cited three main elements that tipped the scales in favor of postponement: the alarming rise of COVID-19 transmission rates, the amount of unknown information regarding the virus and concerns surrounding contact tracing.
Even with a conference ruling in place, it appears some Big Ten member schools aren’t going to take no for an answer. Nebraska football coach Scott Frost was adamant that his program will take the field this fall in some capacity during an interview following last week’s postponement, and on Wednesday, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith claimed University president-elect Kristina Johnson hasn’t shut the door on fall competition.
“Dr. Johnson directed us to prepare for the possibility of bringing at least some of our fall sports back to practice and competition by the end of the year,” Smith said in a statement. “We’re actively planning for the winter/spring seasons for all sports, including the return of football.”
The most Warren said on that topic was that a Return to Competition Task Force has been assembled, “to plan for the resturn of fall sports competition as soon as possible.”