MAC ON SPORTS: BIG TEN COMMISSIONER KEVIN WARREN RESPONDS TO PARENTS, OTHERS

J. Thomas McNamara

  With criticism coming from all directions, from the west Nebraska, from the Midwest, Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois, Penn State, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren had to do something after a group of Illini football parents and others sent the Big Ten office letters asking for a meeting to discuss the lack of transparency from the league on why football is being postponed until spring.

    It didn’t take long before Commissioner Warren issued a lengthy statement Wednesday afternoon about how the process played out and definitely said a vote was taken.
    He also strongly stated the is closed and wouldn’t be revisited.  
    Here’s some excerpts from his letter:

    The decision was thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts,” Warren wrote in his first public comments since announcing the league’s decision on Aug. 11.  “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.”

    “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.”
    When asked about the communication from the league to the coaches, Warren said the conference “communicated to the best of our abilities, but I’m absolutely willing to accept the responsibility that will be a focus to make sure we communicate better, not only internally, but externally as we go forward.
    “From a communication standpoint, I can do a better job and I will do a better job to communicate better,” he said.  “But again, from a decision-making standpoint, we believed we were methodical in our decision-making process; we asked our medical advisors and our medical experts to provide us with professional medical information and the decision was made by our chancellors and presidents based on that medical information.”
    Some parents have suggested that any teams that don’t feel safe playing this year should be able to “opt out,” just as the athletes were allowed to do.  Warren said that in order to be a conference, it has to act like one.
    “We have certain rules and regulations that provide us with the opportunity to come together, to work together, and to build an incredible environment to allow our young people to compete in NCAA athletics,” he said.  “There are some schools in the country who are independent, and they made that determination. And they operate that way.  The Big Ten Conference has been built on these 14 schools [that] agreed to be a member of a conference.  We work together as a conference.”
    Some have criticized Warren because his son, Powers Warren, is a tight end for Mississippi State, and the SEC is one of the three Power 5 conferences that have continued to push forward in an attempt to play this fall.
    “We’ve had many difficult discussions as a family,” Kevin Warren said. “My focus from a Big Ten perspective is what is the right thing to do every day for our student-athletes. That’s my focus, and it has to remain my focus.”
    When asked directly if he will let Powers play this fall, Warren said, “He just started practice yesterday.     We’ll continue our family discussions.”
    Randy Wade, father of Ohio State star defensive back Shaun Wade, said he’s not satisfied with Warren’s letter and still plans to protest peacefully Friday outside Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois.
     “It’s going down now,” Wade said. “I had one poster made. I’m going to have two now.”
Randy Wade said he takes issue with the fact that Warren’s son is going to play for Mississippi State while his son is sidelined at Ohio State.  And Wade says he realizes his protest might be for naught.
    “I’m not saying anything’s going to change by me going up there, but I can’t stand for uncertainty,” he said. “Uncertainty is not enough. I need to know what percentages need to go down, how you want things to happen, to make things better.”
    Warren won’t be at the office on Friday, telling ESPN the conference office has been closed because of the pandemic, with employees working remotely.
    “I’m sure at the appropriate time in the appropriate setting, we’ll have an opportunity to meet,” Warren said.
    In the aftermath of the decision, athletic directors throughout the league began scrambling to put together a plan for the spring — or at least concepts of what it might look like. Warren said those ideas weren’t in place when the decision to postpone was made because all of their time and effort had been spent on trying to make the fall work.
    “We were focused on doing all that we could to have a fall sports season, especially a fall football season,” he said. “We have a return to competition task force … [Wisconsin athletic director] Barry Alvarez is the chair of, really, our schedule. We are focused on building the best opportunity in the winter or the spring, assuming that from a medical standpoint it’s safe for us to compete.”
    Warren was asked on Wednesday evening if he would change the way he handled anything.
    “If I could go back and do this all again, the decision our chancellors and presidents made is absolutely the right decision,” he said. “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,” he said. “But I’m confident we made the right decision.

 

“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,” Warren’s letter read. “The decision was thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts.”

  • 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.

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