The Big Ten's handling of this situation has been maddening, and commissioner Kevin Warren owes everybody an explanation
Think back to just a month ago when the Big Ten announced it would play a conference-only schedule for the 2020 season. It was almost universally praised as the league having the foresight to save the season.
With what we know now, though, it was actually the first instance of the Big Ten going rogue — and a troubling sign of things to come as the 2020 college football season collapses before it ever had a chance to start, largely thanks to the Big Ten.
The Big Ten reportedly postponed the 2020 season Monday, just 5 days after it released its new schedule. (Subsequent reports are challenging that assertion.) What changed in those 5 days? No one knows. There were plenty of anonymous sources in national media reports over the weekend claiming this was inevitable. It was a startling turn of events after Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren got on Big Ten Network and gave the impression that the conference was moving forward with a fall schedule and touted that the league had proper safety protocols in place.
Now, Warren owes all of us an explanation. Especially the players, who valiantly tried to save the season by taking to social media Saturday and Sunday, coming together behind the hashtag of #WeWantToPlay. They had the rug swept out from under them, as this all happened quicker than anyone could do anything to actually save the season.
Warren, who has only been on the job since January, has drawn praise throughout the pandemic, but he will deservedly lose in the battle of public opinion. No one really knows whether this was the right decision and if it’s just inevitable that the season isn’t going to happen in the fall, but it’s easy to find fault in Warren’s process. Did he not consult university presidents before going on TV and releasing a schedule? What happened behind the scenes that led to this abrupt change of heart? How could he possibly ask the teams to keep practice “light” on Monday, according to Yahoo, when the season is reportedly all but postponed?
I scoffed at Warren reportedly looking for the SEC, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 to come out with a joint announcement of postponement early this week. I imagine those commissioners, aside from maybe Larry Scott of the Pac-12, scoffed, too. They must have been thinking, “Excuse me? Where was this collaboration when you decided to announce you were canceling nonconference games? Where was this collaboration when we decided to delay the start of the season until late September, and you forged ahead for Labor Day Weekend?”
It’s fair to wonder if this would be happening if Jim Delany were still Big Ten Commissioner. Delany’s leadership and experience are sorely missed at a moment like this. Delany’s business savvy — he created the Big Ten Network 7 years before the SEC Network and was at the forefront of conference expansion — would have been an asset and helped engineer a more coordinated effort to go through a season that is so important financially to universities and the towns they reside in. He would have understood all of the elements that needed to go into this season before August, like having the proper testing protocols in place and punishing teams that disobey. Warren seems to have been playing catch-up the entire time. He has seemed to be in over his head.
In fairness to Warren, this is his first year, and you can’t ask for a more difficult situation. He didn’t create the pandemic. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that he got on TV on a Wednesday and 3 days later, he leaked that he prefers a spring season. How did he get on TV on a Wednesday and 5 days later, there are reports that the only schools that want football are Iowa and Nebraska. You don’t have to be a seasoned vet to realize there’s a messaging problem. The lack of communication and organization is inexcusable.
Warren opting for a conference-only schedule might have been the right decision, but his presentation was all wrong. It shows his inexperience. Delany wouldn’t have gone rogue and left the other conferences in the dust, scrambling to come up with their own solutions.
It’s a shame this is happening in August. What have those Power 5 administrators been meeting about since the pandemic started in March? It was understandable how the NCAA handled college basketball, since the COVID-19 situation escalated in real time. College football, on the other hand, had 5 months to get its act together and figure out a plan, and it failed mightily. It would be fascinating to hear from others on those calls on what Warren’s involvement and willingness to work with them on the season was like.
Is this really about safety? It sure doesn’t seem like it. I want to know what data Warren looked at that showed 18-22 year-olds will be safer without these extensive protocols in place than with them and playing a season. Jim Harbaugh released a statement Monday advocating for fall football and sharing data from Michigan’s testing since players returned to campus on June 13, trying to show there was a way forward. Did Warren consult the people actually working in these programs every day and see that there may be a way forward?
I want to know how Warren plans to move forward with the loss of revenue. Is there a way around the unfortunate cuts around athletic departments and universities that are likely to come? It certainly has to be a consideration in this, and there has to be a plan for survival.
I want to know why playing in the spring will be any different than the fall. And if it is so dangerous to have college athletes on campus playing football, then it is probably just as dangerous for them to be on campus going to class, right? Or going to workouts. I want to know who he talked to on the players’ side, because they obviously felt their voices weren’t heard in this decision.
Kevin Warren has some explaining to do. He needs to share why this all happened in the manner it did and why he went rogue, because from the outside looking in, it has been completely maddening.