Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Big Ten on hold until questions answered

6 Comments

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.

Report: Big Ten presidents to reconsider fall football

Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
7 Comments

Big Ten football might be making a comeback.

Big Ten university presidents will meet Sunday to hear a presentation about playing a fall football season after all — maybe as soon as mid-October — amid pressure to kick off from parents, players, coaches and even the president.

A person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press the Big Ten’s Return to Competition Task Force met Saturday. The medical subcommittee, comprised of athletic directors, doctors and athletic training staffers, made a presentation to a subgroup of eight presidents and chancellors. The presentation included improvements in the availability of rapid, daily COVID-19 testing.

The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Big Ten was not making its efforts to return to play public, said it was a “positive meeting” that led to the scheduling of another presentation to the full group of 14 presidents and chancellors Sunday.

The presentation will cover medical, television and scheduling plans for football, the person said. A vote to start a season is not guaranteed on Sunday but could happen in the coming days. The news was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Another person involved in the Big Ten’s return to play planning told AP that allowing schools to opt out of playing if the presidents do decide to give the go-ahead to a fall season has been discussed among the task force.

If things move quickly, the Big Ten could start an eight-game season in about a month, and still compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. While some Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference teams began their seasons Saturday, and more will next week, the Southeastern Conference is not scheduled to kick off until Sept. 26.

The Big Ten postponed its fall season Aug. 11 because of concerns about playing through the coronavirus pandemic, with presidents and chancellors voting 11-3 in favor. Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska voted against postponement.

The conference and first-year Commissioner Kevin Warren have faced push back from inside and out ever since. Parents of players have demonstrated on campuses and in front of the Big Ten offices outside Chicago. A group of Nebraska players filed a lawsuit against the conference to overturn the decision not to play.

President Donald Trump called Warren to encourage the conference to reconsider. The Republican president and his Democratic opponents have tried to blame each other for college football going dormant across much of the Midwest, which includes several battleground states considered key in the November election.

Within the conference, Ohio State coach Ryan Day released a statement Thursday asking the Big Ten to provide more clarity about its decision to postpone. Penn State coach James Franklin made similar comments in a radio interview.

Day’s Buckeyes were No. 2 in the AP preseason Top 25. Franklin’s Nittany Lions were No. 7.

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.”