Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren Says Decision to Postpone Fall Sports “Will Not Be Revisited” in Open Letter

By Dan Hope on August 19, 2020 at 6:07 pm
Kevin Warren
Thomas J. Russo – USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten will not reconsider its decision to postpone fall sports.

In an open letter released by the conference on Wednesday, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said “the vote by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) was overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited.”

“The decision was thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts,” Warren said. “Despite the decision to postpone fall sports, we continue our work to find a path forward that creates a healthy and safe environment for all Big Ten student-athletes to compete in the sports they love in a manner that helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protects both student-athletes and the surrounding communities.”

In a statement released by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith on Wednesday, he reiterated that Ohio State president Kristina Johnson “has been 100% aligned” with him and Ryan Day in their desire to play football and other fall sports this fall, and said Ohio State “is confident that we have the safety protocols and rigorous safeguards in place for our student-athletes to practice and return to competition immediately,” though OSU is now “actively planning for the winter and spring seasons for all sports, including the return of football.”

Warren, who had not previously specified the reasons behind the conference's decision to postpone fall sports, wrote Wednesday that the primary reasons behind the decisions included the amount of positive COVID-19 cases around the country, the unknowns about the virus' long-term effects and the inability to maintain physical distancing guidelines while playing contact sports.

  • Transmission rates continue to rise at an alarming rate with little indication from medical experts that our campuses, communities or country could gain control of the spread of the virus prior to the start of competition.
    • As our teams were ramping up for more intense practices, many of our medical staffs did not think the interventions we had planned would be adequate to decrease the potential spread even with very regular testing.
    • As the general student body comes back to campus, spread to student-athletes could reintroduce infection into our athletics community.
  • There is simply too much we do not know about the virus, recovery from infection, and longer-term effects. While the data on cardiomyopathy is preliminary and incomplete, the uncertain risk was unacceptable at this time.
  • Concerns surrounding contact tracing still exist, including the inability to social distance in contact sports pursuant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. While risk mitigation processes (e.g., physical distancing, face coverings, proper hygiene, etc.) can be implemented across campus for the student body population, it became clear those processes could not be fully implemented in contact sports.
    • 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.
    • Accurate and widely available rapid testing may help mitigate those concerns, but access to accurate tests is currently limited.
    • Significant concerns also exist regarding the testing supply chain, generally, for many of our institutions.

“Financial considerations did not influence the COP/C decision, as the postponement will have enormous adverse financial implications,” Warren said. “We understand the passion of the many student-athletes and their families who were disappointed by the decision, but also know there are many who have a great deal of concern and anxiety regarding the pandemic.”

While Warren's letter on Wednesday does not specify the conference's plans for a winter or spring football season, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that the conference is targeting a January return to football.

“Moving forward, we will continue to build upon the framework that our medical experts have developed over the past five months while we take the opportunity to learn more about the virus and its effects,” Warren said. “As we expand upon a plan to allow our student-athletes to compete as soon as it is safe to do so, we will keep our focus on creating protocols and standards set forth and established by our medical advisors that are responsive to the medical concerns evaluated by our COP/C.”
“To that end, the Big Ten Conference has assembled a Return to Competition Task Force consisting of members from the COP/C, sports medicine and university medical personnel, Athletic Directors, Head Coaches, Faculty Athletic Representatives and Senior Women Administrators to plan for the return of fall sports competition as soon as possible. 

“In evaluating winter/spring models, we will explore many factors including the number of football games that can reasonably be played from a health perspective in a full calendar year while maintaining a premier competitive experience for our student-athletes culminating in a Big Ten Championship. The Big Ten Conference will continue to collect feedback from student-athletes, families, and other constituents and remains in active discussions with its television partners regarding all future plans.”

Johnson will represent Ohio State on the Big Ten's Return to Competition Task Force, per Smith's statement.

Warren's letter comes after a petition from Justin Fields to reinstate the fall season received more than 280,000 signatures, while parents of football players from six Big Ten schools, including Ohio State, sent letters to the conference requesting that the conference reconsider its decision to postpone the football season and to provide more transparency on why the decision was made.

Football Parents at Ohio State, the group that sent the letter to Warren, had requested a response by Wednesday. Numerous parents of Ohio State football players – including Shaun Wade's father Randy, who is still planning to hold a peaceful protest at Big Ten headquarters at 8 a.m. Friday, reacted negatively on social media to the response Warren provided.

“I think there is still a lack of transparency and no new real information was disclosed to help us understand what changed from Aug. 5 to Aug. 11,” Amanda Babb, the stepmother of Kamryn Babb and the president of Football Parents at Ohio State, told Eleven Warriors. “There is no real plan for the remainder of this year and/or what a winter/spring season will look like. I think it’s extremely hypocritical to say this was for the health and safety of Big Ten athletes, but his son is still playing in the SEC. The letter continued to sidestep real answers to questions we’ve asked.”

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