Big Ten not to reconsider postponement of football season, commissioner says
In an open letter released Wednesday evening, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said the conference will not reconsider the postponement of the football season, along with other fall sports, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Warren said the presidents and chancellors voted “overwhelmingly” last week to postpone fall sports.
“The decision was thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts,” he wrote.
The letter from Warren followed days of backlash from players, parents and fans, who urged the conference to revisit its decision to cancel the fall sports season. The league said during its announcement on Aug. 11 that it would look at rescheduling the sports during the spring semester in 2021.
Parents of players from a nearly half of the Big Ten schools, including Ohio State, sent various letters to the conference in protest.
Justin Fields, the Buckeyes’ star quarterback, went as far as starting an online petition, garnering nearly 300,000 signatures, and going on the “Good Morning America” show on Wednesday to continue the push.
“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, who has rarely spoken publicly since the conference opted to cancel the fall season, said a variety of factors influenced the league’s decision.
They ranged from medical uncertainties and the unknown long-term effects of the coronavirus, along with rising cases across the country and limited opportunities for social distancing in contact sports that make it difficult to limit the transmission of COVID-19.
“With the start of full-contact practices and competitions, it became increasingly clear that contact tracing and quarantining would risk frequent and significant disruptions to the practice and competition calendar,” Warren wrote.
Warren also pointed to limits in the availability of accurate COVID-19 tests and a need to protect the testing supply chain at schools.
Some of the schools in the Big Ten are planning on holding in-person classes during the fall semester.
The health and safety concerns mirrored many that were raised in a 12-page document released by the Pac-12, which joined the Big Ten as the second major conference to cancel its fall football season, citing concerns over community spread and testing availability.
Amanda Babb, the stepmother of Ohio State wide receiver Kamryn Babb and president of the parents group representing Buckeyes football players, said in a text message to The Dispatch that she had hoped for a more detailed response from Warren.
“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,” she wrote. “Also, I wish he would address his son playing in SEC when it’s not ’safe’ enough to play in the B1G.
“So basically not many real answers just more of side stepping the questions.”
Warren’s son, Powers Warren, is a fourth-year junior wide receiver at Mississippi State.
The parents of the Ohio State players had asked for Warren to respond to a letter they had sent to the conference by Wednesday.
Without a fall season, the Big Ten said it was working on rescheduling many of the sports during the winter and spring months.
In a statement that was issued minutes after the commissioner’s letter was released, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said the university’s incoming president, Kristina Johnson, “has 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.”
“We are actively planning for the winter and spring seasons for all sports,” he added, “including the return of football.”
The winter sports season, which include men’s and women’s basketball, begins as early as November.
Johnson will also sit on the conference’s recently formed return to competition task force, according to a news release from OSU, which also touted its health precautions that have been in place since athletes first returned to campus for workouts in June.
“The Ohio State University is confident that we have the safety protocols and rigorous safeguards in place for our student-athletes to practice and return to competition immediately,” Smith said.
Dispatch reporter Bill Rabinowitz contributed to this story.