Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Big Ten on hold until questions answered


The University of Wisconsin chancellor said Tuesday that Big Ten football will remain on hold until there are answers to questions about COVID-19 testing and tracing, along with possible long-term heart issues related to the coronavirus.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank said once the Big Ten university leaders have their concerns addressed “we will try to plan a delayed season.”

A month after postponing games, conference leaders are considering playing a fall season after all. There were weekend meetings on a plan to begin play as soon as mid-October.

Blank, appearing at a congressional hearing on compensation for college athletes, was asked by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) about the Big Ten’s decision last month and whether the conference might reverse course.

“There were several main reasons for that,” Blank said. “One was that we were uncertain we could do the level of testing and contact tracing that we needed to keep athletes safe. Secondly, there was this growing evidence about heart-related myocarditis and that evidence was uncertain and it wasn’t clear what it means and we wanted to know more. There were a few other minor reasons.”

She would not predict which way a vote to return to play would go.

“Decisions within the Big Ten are largely majority based decisions, but I’ll be honest, we almost always decide everything by consensus. We very rarely take votes,” Blank said.

A court filing earlier this month disclosed that Big Ten presidents and chancellors voted 11-3 in favor of postponing all fall sports. Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State voted against the move.

When the next decision comes from the Big Ten was unclear, though KETV in Omaha posted video Tuesday of University of Nebraska President Ted Carter saying, “We’re getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight,” before he spoke at an unrelated news conference.

Carter later told KLKN in Lincoln that statement was taken out of context.

“When there is any news to share or confirm regarding any Big Ten board decision, it will be announced by the Big Ten,” University of Nebraska spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke said.

NCAA doc sees narrow path to play as Fields starts petition

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The NCAA’s chief medical officer says there is a narrow path to playing college sports during the coronavirus pandemic and if testing nationwide does not improve, it cannot be done.

Meanwhile, one of college football’s biggest stars sent out a petition Sunday, calling on the Big Ten to play football this fall.

Dr. Brian Hainline told CNN late Saturday that “everything would have to line up perfectly” for college sports to be played this fall. Much of the fall college sports season has been canceled, with conferences hoping to make up competitions, including football, in the spring.

But not everyone has accepted those decisions.

On Sunday morning, Big Ten football players continued to push the conference to overturn its cancellation of the fall season. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth and other players posted on Twitter an online petition requesting the Big Ten reinstate the schedule the conference released six days before it pulled the plug.

Player parent groups from Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska have sent letters to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren asking for the conference to reverse course and seeking more transparency into the decision.

The letters also call for players to be allowed to sign liability waivers with their schools in order have a season. It was just two weeks ago Pac-12 players with the We Are United movement called for its conference to ban such waivers. Big Ten United, another group of players pushing for more oversight and uniformity in COVID-19 protocols, also demanded liability waivers be banned.

The NCAA did just that a few days later, saying member schools could not require athletes to sign a liability waiver related to COVID-19 to participate.

Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds, one of the leaders of College Athletes United, a group that helped organize Big Ten United, said he wasn’t familiar enough with the parents’ letters to comment on them.

“I am focused on figuring out a way with my fellow players to work with the conference and the NCAA to find a way to return to play that is as safe as possible and ensure the well-being of the players in as timely a manner as possible,” Reynolds said in a text to AP.

The NCAA has no jurisdiction over major college football, so the conferences have been left to make their own calls. At the highest level of college football, four conferences – including the Big Ten and Pac-12 – have postponed fall sports and are hoping to make them up in some fashion in the spring.

Six leagues, including the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12, are moving forward with plans to play in the fall.

Hainline told CNN that how colleges and universities handled the reopening of campuses to students will be crucial in determining when fall sports can be played. Athletes have been on campus for nearly two months in some cases preparing for their seasons and being regularly tested for COVID-19.

Testing of athletes will need to increase when competition begins. Recent breakthroughs in saliva testing could provide faster results and more access to testing for everyone, but just how much remains to be seen. The availability and turnaround times of COVID-19 tests is still a problem in parts of the country.

“Right now, if testing stays at it is, there’s no way we can go forward with sports,” Hainline told CNN.

He added: “We’re not in a place today where we could safely play sports.”

Big Ten parents call on league to play; Oklahoma has 9 positives

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

A group of Ohio State football players’ parents Saturday joined parents of players at Iowa in calling for the Big Ten to overturn its decision not to play this fall because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said nine Sooners tested positive for COVID-19 after he gave his players a week break from team activities.

The Football Parents at Ohio State posted on social media a letter to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, calling for the reinstatement of the 10-game schedule the conference unveiled six days before it postponed football until spring.

“We believe that the protocols put in place by Ohio State Athletics has provided an extremely safe environment for our players to prepare for the season,” the letter said.

The letter also asked for the release of all medical data and information the Big Ten used to make its decision, a meeting with Warren for senior players and their parents, and to permit athletes who want to play to sign a COVID-19 liability waiver.

“Football is a game of risk. Our sons work extremely hard for the opportunity to play and fully understand the risks involved when they step on the field. Their personnel decisions should be acknowledged and honored to give them the opportunity to compete as athletes in the game they love,” the parents wrote.

The parents of Iowa players sent a similar letter Friday.

“The fact that the Big Ten and the Council of Presidents and Chancellors made this decision with no input from those assuming these risks is appalling,” the letter said.

The Big Ten has received the two letters.

Tom Mars, an attorney who has helped players such as Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields with NCAA transfer eligibility waiver claims, has been advising some of the parents of Big Ten players fighting for their sons’ seasons.

Mars provided a two-page document titled “Action Plan to Mitigate Concerns and Legal Risks of Playing Fall 2020 Football” to the parents, which includes “stakeholders” – players, parents, conference commissioners, university presidents, athletic directors and coaches – petitioning the NCAA Board of Governors to rescind the COVID-19 waiver ban.

The NCAA two weeks ago announced that it would not permit its schools to require athletes to sign away legal rights related to COVID-19 before competing this season. Recent players’ rights movements, such as We Are United in the Pac-12 and Big Ten United have called for on conferences to prohibit such waivers.

Earlier this week, a group of Senators, led by New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, announced the framework of possible federal legislation of college sports. Part of the College Athletes Bill of Rights would prohibit schools requiring athletes to give up legal rights.

“The parental feedback today about a `liability waiver’ cold not be more different than it was when Ohio State’s Buckeye Pledge was the subject of intense criticism,” Mars said.

Mars said the attitude among parents has gone from suspicious of anything that could be construed as a waiver to “Where do I sign,” he said.

In Norman, Oklahoma, Riley announced on Aug. 8 the Sooners were temporarily pausing preseason practices because of schedule changes. He gave players the option of returning home, though he said 75% stayed on campus.

After the initial testing in preparation for the July 1 start of workouts, the program had just one positive result until this week. There were two rounds of tests last week, with one positive in 205 tests.

“It’d be pretty easy to say right now that I regret it,” Riley said of giving the players a break. “I also feel like if I keep a team hemmed up here for a six or seven week training camp that I’d probably regret that too.”

Riley said the outbreak showed the challenges that lie ahead when players cannot be kept in a virus-free bubble the the NBA and NHL are operating.

“I think what we’re up against is something that’s doable, but the key is going to be for our players, our staff … how well can this virus be mitigated or stopped or contained when players or staff members are not in our facilities?” Riley said.