Big Ten’s Warren, under fire, elaborates on virus concerns

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

Facing backlash from fans, players’ parents and others, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren sought to elaborate on the decision last week to postpone football season until spring.

The first-year commissioner has been criticized for a lack of transparency in how the decision to call off football this fall was made.

“We thoroughly understand and deeply value what sports mean to our student-athletes, their families, our coaches and our fans,” Warren wrote Wednesday in what was called an “Open Letter to the Big Ten Community.”

“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.”

The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced Aug. 11 there would be no football in their conferences. That was four days after the Big Ten released a revised 10-game schedule for each team.

The Pac-12 rolled out its decision with comment from its medical experts. Warren did not make the Big Ten medical advisers available and spoke in generalities about the reasons.

Players and coaches expressed disappointment in how the announcement was made, and the parents of players from several schools wrote letters to Warren demanding further explanation in t he wake of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference proceeding with plans to play this fall.

In his letter Wednesday, Warren listed primary factors that led to the decision:

– Transmission rates continue to rise at an alarming rate with little indication from medical experts that campuses, communities and the 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,” he wrote. “As the general student body comes back to campus, spread to student-athletes could reintroduce infection into our athletics community.”

– There is too much unknown about the virus, recovery from infection, and longer-term effects. In particular, Warren mentioned the risk of cardiomyopathy, a condition that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood and can lead to heart failure. “The uncertain risk was unacceptable at this time,” he wrote.

– Concerns about contact tracing, including the inability to social distance in contact sports pursuant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He wrote that risk mitigation processes such as physical distancing, face coverings and proper hygiene could not be fully implemented in contact sports.

“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.”

Warren said the start of full-contact practices and games would make contact tracing more difficult and that there could be frequent and significant disruptions to the season.

“Accurate and widely available rapid testing may help mitigate those concerns, but access to accurate tests is currently limited,” he wrote.

Warren noted that the decision to postpone the season would have negative financial implications on the schools.

“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.”