Following days of widespread backlash over the Big Ten’s cancellation of the fall sports season due to the coronavirus pandemic, conference commissioner Kevin Warren released an open letter on Wednesday night.
It outlined the rationale behind the decision and reiterated that the conference has no intent to reverse course. A vote by presidents and chancellors of member schools, Warren said, had been in "overwhelming" support of canceling.
But parents of Ohio State football players remained unsatisfied with the address from Warren, who called off games more than three weeks before kickoffs and offered no details surrounding a framework for a potentially rescheduled season in the spring semester.
In a phone interview on Thursday, Randy Wade, the father of Buckeyes star cornerback Shaun Wade, said he did not think the letter was sufficient and was still organizing a peaceful protest for Friday at the Big Ten’s headquarters in suburban Chicago.
At least 16 other Ohio State parents were still planning to join him, plus some from other conference schools.
"We don’t want this situation to happen again, meaning going into the spring with no measurement of what needs to happen to make Big Ten football come back," Randy Wade said. "If we lose it in the fall, we lose in the fall, but we want to be a part of the solution and work together to make it safer. I don’t feel like his statement is having us as a part of a solution or answering our questions."
Last week, the organization representing parents of OSU players sent a formal letter to Warren, requesting for a conference call audience with the first-year commissioner. Such video teleconferences have been a common form of communication between Ohio State administrators and parents since the early days of the pandemic in March, prompting a shutdown of facilities before they reopened in June.
Wade said meeting would be a productive step toward dialogue with the conference.
"We want communication, transparency, and to make things the safest way they can be," he said. "That’s it."
The Big Ten has provided few specifics surrounding the medical data it relied on to postpone football, as well as other fall sports.
Warren acknowledged some of the factors in his Wednesday letter, pointing to current transmission rates of COVID-19 across the country and limited testing resources that pose challenges for diagnosing coronavirus cases among players, coaches and other staff members on teams.
"We understand the passion of the many student-athletes and their families who were disappointed by the decision," Warren wrote, "but also know there are many who have a great deal of concern and anxiety regarding the pandemic."
Warren also pointed to unknown long-term effects of COVID-19, which has led to heart damage in some cases or symptoms that last for months.
The reasoning was similar to that offered last week in a 12-page report by the Pac-12 when it became the second major conference to cancel fall sports. But the Big Ten’s response has been less detailed.
Despite parents’ concerns, the scale of the pandemic is not lost on Wade, who is aware that the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 had recently surpassed 170,000.
"I want people to be clear: This is not about disrespect to the people that die during this pandemic," he said. "We take it seriously. But as Americans, you’ve got to do the best you can to live your life the safest way possible."
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement on Wednesday that the school is preparing for a pathway for fall sports to return to practices and games by the end of the year, but other OSU parents were looking for a firmer timetable from the conference.
"I wish there would have been more of a plan about what the ‘spring’ season looks like and an actionable plan of moving forward for the remainder of the fall," Amanda Babb, the stepmother of Ohio State receiver Kamryn Babb and president of the parents’ group, wrote in a text message.
They hope more answers will emerge in the coming days, perhaps as soon as Friday.