Big Ten Conference commissioner Kevin Warren released an open letter Wednesday, responding to frustration and stating that the league won’t revisit its decision to postpone fall sports through 2020.
“I write on this occasion to share with you additional information regarding the Big Ten Conference’s decision to postpone the 2020-21 fall sports season,” Warren’s letter reads. “We thoroughly understand and deeply value what sports mean to our student-athletes, their families, our coaches and our fans. 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 last sentence needed clarification for the league’s players, parents, coaches, athletic directors and fans, who had expressed frustration regarding the limited details included with the Big Ten’s initial Aug. 11 announcement postponing fall sports with the hopes of playing in the spring.
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The cancellation announcement, which came less than a week after the Big Ten announced its prospective 2020 football schedule, failed to include the specific details or medical concerns that caused the league to change course. Therefore, a number of football parent groups wrote letters asking for more information, an attorney representing parents requested the Big Ten release documents, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields headlined a petition titled “We want to play,” Nebraska briefly explored creating its own schedule, and Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said it was unclear if a vote to cancel the season actually took place.
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Warren provided a little more transparency Wednesday, saying the main factor for postponing was the medical uncertainty and unknown health risks related to COVID-19. He went on to list the primary factors:
- 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 league assembled a Return to Competition Task Force that will continue to work with medical experts to develop a plan to return to competition “as soon as it is safe to do so.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that “Big Ten officials are working on a revised football schedule that could feature teams starting their season in early January” and finishing before the 2021 NFL Draft begins April 29.
According to the Journal Sentinel, parents of University of Wisconsin football players were told about the plan Tuesday night. The goal is to play games at indoor facilities in Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Detroit.