Big Ten’s Kevin Warren Responds to Critics, Doubles Down on Cancelling Fall Sports in 2020
Early Wednesday, the Big Ten Conference commissioner Kevin Warren released an open letter stating that they would stick to their decision to postpone the 2020 college football season. The open letter made it clear that the Big Ten would not reverse course on their decision to cancel fall sports.
The entire letter from Kevin Warren can be read below:
Before the Big Ten’s statement Wednesday afternoon, college football fans had been lost in the dark without a clear, logical explanation that supported the cancellation of fall sports. Wednesday’s statement squashed rampant online rumors, suggesting that the Big Ten was considering a reverse in action after facing passionate pushbacks from prominent B1G athletes, coaches, college football media, boosters, and President Donald Trump.
In the official letter released Wednesday, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren stated that presidents and chancellors were –
“overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited.”
This statement from the Big Ten comes in the midst of skepticism of the conference’s due process when making this decision. In the letter, Warren states:
“The decision was thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts.”
Over the course of the last week, Kevin Warren’s leadership has been under constant attack for lack of transparency and logical decision making.
For example, hours after the announcement of the postponed football season, athletic department representatives from Iowa and Nebraska publicly spoke out against Kevin Warren and the Big Ten conference.
The University Presidents’ decision to cancel the season blindsided many, since just a few days prior, the conference officially released their 2020 fall football schedule in celebratory fashion. Tuesday, the father of star Ohio State corner Shaun Wade protested outside of Big Ten headquarters demanding a detailed explanation.
In addition, the conference’s decision to double down on the cancellation of fall sports came days after Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields created an online petition to reevaluate the conference’s decision to shut down. Fields believed it should be the players’ decision if they want to play or not, demanding the conference “allow Big Ten players/teams to make their own choice as to whether they wish to play or opt out this fall season.”
Fields became the leading voice for Big Ten players requesting a reinstatement of their season. The petition has gained significant momentum gaining nearly 300,000 signatures in three days. Fields made the argument that athletes were better protected from coronavirus in a football environment where they were being routinely tested and receiving top tier medical care.
The growth of this player movement actually influenced the conference to release their detailed letter to the public.
Responding to Critics.
Wednesday’s statement gave Warren a chance to respond to his critics and explain the Big Ten’s decision. In the letter, Warren stressed that the decision to postpone fall athletics was rooted in a concern for player safety rather than protecting the University’s liability.
When evaluating player safety, Warren said, “You can’t overlook the medical issues involving COVID-19 and moving to contact sports.” He continued. “As we were getting ready to go into full-contact, we had to evaluate: What was the right thing to do for our student-athletes? We feel like we made the most prudent decision we could at that time, based upon the medical information that we had gathered.
“We understand the disappointment and questions surrounding the timing of our decision to postpone fall sports, especially in light of releasing a football schedule only six days prior to that decision,” Warren wrote. “From the beginning, we consistently communicated our commitment to cautiously proceed one day at a time with the health, safety, and wellness of our student-athletes at the center of our decision-making process. That is why we took simultaneous paths in releasing the football schedule, while also diligently monitoring the spread of the virus, testing, and medical concerns as student-athletes were transitioning to full-contact practice.”
The conference listed six primary reasons for how COVID-19 made it 100% impossible for the meeting to execute a college football season this fall. One of the main factors that influenced the conference’s decision was uncertainty surrounding the virus, itself. Warren cited “too much medical uncertainty and too many unknown health risks regarding SARS-CoV-2 infection,” and its impact on the student-athletes. He listed several primary factors in the presidents’ decision, including the “alarming rate” of transmission rates, a concern about the return of the general student body, and concerns about contact tracing. He also wrote, “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.”
In addition, Warren cited a lack of rapid testing availability, the unknown of long term heart conditions, the impossibility of enacting safe social distancing during a contact sport, excessive travel, and enacting these protocols would make it difficult to execute the sport.
Impact of the Decision.
Operating and making decisions in response to COVID-19 has not been easy for any organization. B1G football is a prominent aspect of the midwest and our country. Protecting student-athletes should be the number one priority. However, canceling college football has significant ramifications that are much larger than fans missing out on a tailgate.
Despite all the criticism and press, Warren believes the college presidents and chancellors made the right decision, saying, “”If I could go back and do this all again, the decision our chancellors and presidents made is absolutely the right decision.” He continued, “I would focus on making sure our internal communication was better. That’s what I would do. But as far as the decision? Did we do the right thing based on the medical information we have? Yes. I’m confident we made the right decision because we put the health and safety of our student-athletes—their physical and mental health—at the top of our decision-making process.
“This was a difficult decision that had incredible, complicated financial ramifications. But I’m confident we made the right decision.”
Athletic programs will take million dollar losses and may be forced to close down. Scholarships will be limited and other student athletes from non-profitable sports will lose their chance at a free education. Businesses in college towns that depend on football traffic in the fall will see significant losses.
Others will say the Big Ten’s responsibility is to preserve the health and safety of student-athletes. At this moment, they came to an unpopular decision to uphold that responsibility. It is interesting that other conferences with access to the same data points have reached different conclusions. Like everything in 2020, the argument of whether to play or cancel college football has become incredibly divisive. It really stems on how these collegiate institutions view COVID-19.
At the end of the day, the decision to play or suspend college football has to start and end with what’s best for the student-athletes. It has become apparent that many student-athletes want to play. Is the virus dangerous enough that universities should have the power to take away that choice? This entire statement might sound like an organization giving justification for a poor predetermined decision. Was the purpose of Big Ten’s decision to cancel football based on the health and well-being of student-athletes, or were they serving a greater political purpose to protect themselves? Only Kevin Warren and the university presidents can answer that question.