Pressure from Justin Fields, parents of Ohio State players paid off in Big Ten decision
As petitions, letters and protests defined the five weeks between the postponement and reinstatement of the Big Ten football season, some of the loudest voices came from Ohio State’s football program.
Quarterback Justin Fields led a public campaign asking the conference to reconsider its early decision to call off fall football.
Parents of Buckeyes players organized demonstrations near the league offices in suburban Chicago and outside the north rotunda of Ohio Stadium.
While there were advancements in COVID-19 testing and more defined answers surrounding the heart complications triggered by the virus that led the Big Ten to restart a fall season, those involved in pressuring the conference to reverse course believe their efforts also contributed to this week’s decision.
“I definitely think it had an effect,” Fields said. “I don’t think it was the only effect, of course, but I think it was part of it.”
Fields was one of the first to push for reconsideration. On Aug. 16, five days after the season’s postponement, he started an online petition that ultimately got more than 300,000 signatures. He later appeared on nationally televised morning TV shows to continue making his case.
Over the same weekend, the parents group representing Ohio State players sent a letter to the conference, contending the decision was reached in haste and asking for greater transparency into the events that led to the postponement. They asked that the season be reinstated as scheduled.
“I think it all helped to keep the pressure on the Big Ten in that we weren't just going to go quietly,” said Amanda Babb, stepmother of wide receiver Kamryn Babb and president of the Ohio State Football Parents Association. “I mean, you know, we sent the letter, but then we didn't really back down.”
She credited similar efforts from parent organizations at other Big Ten schools, particularly Iowa and Nebraska. Eight players from Nebraska also filed a lawsuit against the conference.
Ultimately, the Big Ten might have restarted its season once daily testing was implemented, but Amanda Babb wonders if it would have come as soon as late October without a fervent push.
“Even if the medical advances had been made, I don't know if they would have been willing to go back and reassess and see if they should have been playing without all of the backlash that they've received,” she said.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith described administrators as laser-focused on reviving a season. But he acknowledged that he and others were aware of the sentiments of the players and parents who advocated for football to be played.
“We were obviously paying attention to the voices of the people we serve,” Smith said. “We always do.”
If the voices were ultimately drowned out by other factors, Fields said he didn’t care. He is ready to take the field soon.
“We all got what we wanted in the opportunity to play,” Fields said. “I was really just trying to do whatever I could to get the season back, not only for me, but my teammates.
“I know how bad we wanted to play and how hard we worked all offseason.”