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Rob Oller | Pondering how Big Ten might respond to calls to restore fall sports

Rob Oller
roller@dispatch.com
DISPATCH MUG headshot Rob Oller

The Big Ten shuttered the fall football season, but the Scarlet & Gray Matter investigative team (sorry, Ohio State, we trademarked SGM before you could) are still busting our butts tracking news you can use.

For example, there is a chance we obtained a double-secret internal document from a rogue mole inside the Big Ten that is addressed to parents, players and coaches. We can vouch that the document, which reads like a confession, is absolutely legitimate (give or take), in the same way that robo-callers are 100% real people.

Whatever. The point is that the fictional, um, recovered document could be how the Big Ten plans to respond to players, parents and coaches in the wake of those groups taking the conference to task via Twitter, organizational letter and petition.

A letter from the Football Parents Association of Ohio State, addressed to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, requests in part: reinstatement of the 10-game conference-only season; full transparency by releasing the medical data used in the decision to cancel the fall season; and Warren’s participation on a Zoom call with senior players and their parents.

Parents of players from Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan and Penn State submitted similar demands-disguised-as-requests.

The Big Ten memo-that-may-not-be-real also mentions a very real online petition begun by Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields, addressed to Warren, pushing for reversal of the Big Ten decision. The petition, appearing on the MoveOn.org platform, had received more than 200,000 signatures as of Monday morning.

What follows is an excerpt — ahem — from the Big Ten document.

“To parents, players, coaches, corporate partners and fan-boy malcontents, greetings from Big Ten leaders, if not legends. We begin by admitting you make valid points. Chief among them is the claim that the conference moved too quickly in canceling fall sports.

“Face it, folks, the Big Ten panicked. That does not mean we made the wrong decision. Both our conscience and our lawyers — one and the same? — assure us we did not. But it feels now more like a knee-jerk reaction than a well-considered plan. It would have been better if our presidents had taken a deep breath and waited a few more weeks before pulling the plug.

“Why? To let medical science catch up — you may have heard about the new COVID-19 saliva test that provides faster results at less cost? — and to take the temperature of the room (pandemic pun intended). By watching how other conferences operate — the Big 12, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern all are going to try to play this fall — and communicating with them we can make smarter decisions based on shared information. Unfortunately, college football lacks a unified front. We need to get on the same page.

“We do, however, want to emphasize that by shutting down fall sports, we may have slowed the spread of the virus. Every day that contact happens during football practice adds to the risk, small though it may be, that a student-athlete contracts COVID-19.

“In reading your letters, Twitter rants and petitions, we noticed you mostly avoided a core issue, namely the threat of a lawsuit. You want to influence the Big Ten into at least reconsidering its stance on fall sports? Put your money where your health is. Sign a binding waiver that releases us from liability if you, your child or any coach contracts the virus and either dies or suffers long-term health issues, such as myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that some medical types think is linked to COVID-19.

“You can’t call for a football season then call your attorney the minute a player gets sick. Also, remember that your athlete could spread the virus to those in the student body. This isn’t just about protecting athletes.

“Still, your efforts are mostly admirable. Parents, we applaud you for holding the Big Ten accountable. We need it. Players, keep protesting. Too long have your rights been smothered by a system that touts amateurism only when it benefits the non-amateurs who coach and run athletic departments and bowl games. Coaches and staffers, it’s good to see you support your players, even if at times it comes off as self-serving recruiting fodder.

“That said, maybe think about turning down the sound on your messaging that football players deserve a season because they work harder than anyone. Even those in your corner are tiring of the boo-hooing, which can come off as whining among the privileged. You don’t think cross country runners work just as hard? And many of them will miss two seasons, after track and field was canceled in the spring.

“Wrapping up, in whispers, many in the Big Ten agree with your beefs. We likely won’t back down and reinstate fall sports, but you made us think. And that’s what college is for. We’re still working on the learning part.”

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

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