Big Ten: Medical expertise of UM, MSU presidents weighed heavily in decision to pull plug
The Big Ten suggested in court this week that it relied heavily on the medical expertise of Michigan president Mark Schlissel and Michigan State president Samuel L. Stanley in deciding to postpone fall sports, including football, until the spring.
In its brief filed Monday in response to the suit brought by eight Nebraska football players, the Big Ten said its medical data was behind the decision that continues to spark outrage among conference parents, players and even some coaches.
The Big Ten installed a Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and a Sports Medicine Committee, with representation from each of the conference's 14 member schools. The Emerging Infectious Diseases task force was created in March, after college sports shut down amid the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The express purpose of the group is 'to provide counsel and sound medical advice to ensure the health, safety and wellness of the Big Ten’s students, coaches, administrators and fans,'" the Big Ten said of the Emerging Infectious Diseases task force.
"Relying on this advice, the COP/C (Big Ten's Council of Presidents and Chancellors), which itself includes two member school presidents who are renowned medical professionals, voted to postpone."
The Big Ten revealed in its Monday brief that the vote was 11-3 in favor of postponing, and while it didn't specify which schools voted "nay," multiple reports identify Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa. The Big Ten bylaws require 60% for a motion to pass; 11 out of 14 is 79%.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten's vote reveal is in contrast to what at least two Big Ten presidents have said. Michigan State's Stanley and Minnesota's Joan Gabel have said publicly there was no traditional vote.
Schlissel, Michigan's president since 2014, holds degrees from Princeton (bachelor's, biochemical sciences) and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (M.D. and Ph.D., physiological chemistry). He is a board-certified internist — internists sometcalled on by other doctors to help with complex cases — and is an expert on antibodies, specifically when it comes to cancer.
Stanley, Michigan State's president since August 2019, earned his bachelor's degree in biological sciences at the University of Chicago, and his medical degree at Harvard. He served a fellowship in infectious diseases, and is considered an expert in the field, even having consulted the United States government.
While Schlissel met with the student newspaper, he hasn't yet met with a full group of reporters since the Big Ten voted to shut down fall sports in early August — a move that was followed shortly by the Pac-12, while the three other Power Five conferences will play on.
The Big Ten's decision was met with resistance from Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, who said in a statement the same day the word came day that his team was in position to play.
Stanley met with reporters Aug. 19 and cited a number of factors behind the Big Ten's decision, namely the turnaround time for testing. The testing issue is one that could be resolved, with a lab in Illinois recently receiving expedited government approval on a rapid, 15-minute test.
President Trump said he talked to commissioner Kevin Warren on Tuesday, and said getting the Big Ten to play in the fall is on the "one-yard line." The Big Ten confirmed the talks, but said nothing to suggest a decision to reverse course is close.
“We really weighed every factor that we could,” Stanley said Aug. 19 of a decision that most Big Ten schools, including Michigan and Michigan State, have said could cost them $100 million or more in revenue, “and came to the conclusion that it made more sense to not proceed forward at this time but to wait, continue to learn more what’s happening, understand some of these things we were uncertain about and then be in a better position to think about what would happen in the spring.”
Since athletes began returning to practice earlier this summer, several Big Ten programs, including Michigan State, have experienced shutdowns amid COVID-19 outbreaks. The latest is Iowa, which has said it won't restart practices until after Labor Day.