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Big Ten: Presidents' vote to postpone football overwhelming; won't be revisited

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

As the Big Ten continues to come under fire from players and parents over the postponement of the college football season, commissioner Kevin Warren released an open letter on Wednesday defending the conference’s actions.

“The vote by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors was overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited,” Warren said in the letter posted on the Big Ten website. “The decision was thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts.

Kevin Warren

“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.”

The Big Ten announced on Aug. 11 it was postponing all fall sports, including football, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics immediately questioned why the Big Ten would make the move only six days after releasing its revised fall football schedule while there was also time to delay the start of the season. They also asked for the information used to make the decision to postpone.

More: Big Ten's goal: January start for football, with hopes for full fall 2021 schedule

The Pac-12 made a similar decision the next day, but since, the other Power Five conferences – the SEC, ACC and Big 12 – have continued to move forward on playing this fall. It’s led to further criticism, primarily from families of players, including many from Michigan who sent a letter urging Warren to reconsider and play football in the fall. That criticism has increased the past few days as it was suggested there was no actual vote by conference presidents and chancellors.

For more than a week, Warren remained silent.

In his letter Wednesday, Warren emphasized he understood the disappointment but said the conference “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.”

As for the factors that contributed to the decision to postpone the fall season, Warren said the continued uncertainty and unknown health risks were at the top of the list, adding financial issues were not considered, citing the fact most schools would experience significant monetary loss.

He went on to list the primary factors for the decision:

►"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."

Warren said the Big Ten has convened a Return to Competition Task Force to focus on playing fall sports in the winter or spring. On Wednesday, a Big Ten source told The Detroit News the aim is to try and start playing football as early as possible, beginning potentially in the first week of January. However, a definitive schedule is still a work in progress.

“We have tremendous appreciation and understanding regarding what participation in sports means to our student-athletes, their families, our campus communities and our fans,” Warren said. “We will continue to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes. We appreciate the passion of the Big Ten community and will harness that energy towards providing the best possible experience for all Big Ten student-athletes.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau