Critics wonder whether Big Ten actually conducted vote to cancel football season

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

In the wake of interviews with a Big Ten president and athletic director, there is growing confusion about whether there was an actual vote to determine the course of the league's college football season and all fall sports and how that decision was reached.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren last Tuesday announced the cancellation of the season but offered very little insight during a subsequent interview on BTN. The decision was made just days after a 10-game football schedule kicking off Labor Day weekend had been announced.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren

Since then, parents from a number of Big Ten schools, including Michigan, which released a letter Monday addressed to Warren and UM president Mark Schlissel demanding a reversal of the cancellation of the 2020 football season, have been angry and vocal. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields on Sunday began an online petition asking for support of the players’ desires to play. It had more than 250,000 signatures by Monday early evening.

Sandy Barbour, Penn State vice president of intercollegiate athletics, shared a stunning admission with reporters during a Zoom call on Monday.

“It is unclear to me whether or not there was a vote,” Barbour said. “No one’s ever told me there was. I just don’t know whether there actually was a vote by the chancellors and presidents.”

This was a stunning revelation as various reports have said the vote was 12-2 among the presidents favoring cancellation and also 8-6.

Last week, Minnesota president Joan Gabel described it as a “deliberative” decision but wouldn’t say a vote actually took place, according to a local FOX report in Minneapolis.

Warren and the Big Ten office shared little of what exactly went into the decision-making process saying it was ultimately made with the health and welfare of students in mind. Shortly after the Big Ten announcement, the Pac-12 also said it was canceling the fall but seems to have avoided a public relations issue because it offered tangible evidence in the form of the medical report that informed their presidents’ decision.

Noted attorney Tom Mars, who has championed student-athletes’ rights and is known in this area for successfully securing immediate eligibility for two-year Michigan starting quarterback Shea Patterson in 2018 after he transferred from Ole Miss, appeared Monday on ESPNU radio on SiriusXM to share his insight into the issue.

Mars, who has said he’s been contacted by multiple parents to discuss transfers and other means to challenge the decision, spoke on the lack of clarity by the Big Ten commissioner.

“Given the really inexplicable lack of transparency by the Big Ten since making its decision, it’s no wonder people are questioning the decision to cancel fall football,” Mars said on ESPNU radio. “In my view, the longer Kevin Warren resists calls for transparency, the more likely it is he’s going to have a very short tenure as a college football commissioner.”

Jon Jansen, the former Michigan captain and show co-host, asked Mars his interpretation of the comment from the Penn State athletic director.

“We’re supposed to make of that that the lack of transparency is at the root of the problem for everybody right now,” Mars said. “Because that question has been raised, the Big Ten needs to say and provide some evidence that there was a vote. Given the lack of transparency, people have grown distrustful of the decision-making process and commissioner Warren.”

Mars, who said the Big Ten must also answer publicly the question of why the rush to pull the plug on the season when three of the Power Five conferences continue to push forward toward a season, said the push from the parents is not ending anytime soon.

“Don’t ever underestimate the power of a group of mad parents, because that’s what’s going on,” Mars said, “and they’re not going to stop, let me assure you.”

Twitter: @chengelis