When we last heard from Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, the rationale for cancelling fall sports, including football, could not have been more clear.
“Our overarching issue that we had to always keep at the top of our mind was that the health, safety, the wellness, both physical and mental for our student athletes, was going to be at the top of my list,” Warren told Dave Revsine on the Big Ten Network.
Since that interview last week, the only thing that now seems clear is that player safety and wellness was not central to the decision.
Truth be told, there were signs of ulterior motives before the league dropped its decision.
ESPN and others reported a couple days before the cancellation that the Big Ten was trying to drum up support for its cause.
“Several sources have indicated to ESPN that Big Ten presidents, following a meeting on Saturday, are ready to pull the plug on its fall sports season, and they wanted to gauge if commissioners and university presidents and chancellors from the other Power 5 conferences — the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — will fall in line with them.”
Query whether a genuine concern about player safety necessitates others following in line?
Does a parent watching their child doing something dangerous wait for other parents to step in and join them in stopping the activity?
Ultimately, the Big Ten found its patsy, the PAC-12, and orchestrated announcements by the two leagues soon followed.
Would the Big Ten have gone it alone? We will never know for sure, but the league certainly didn’t seem to have the courage of its “player safety” convictions.
What we do know is that irrespective of how Warren might feel about the decision to cancel, he wasn’t the one that made it.
Reports of meetings by Big Ten Presidents and Chancellors began to emerge on Saturday, days before the decision was made public.
By Monday it was clear that something had happened in those meetings, whether by a vote or otherwise, and a majority decision had been reached to cancel the season.
The Detroit Free Press made that clear when it accurately broke the news of the cancellation on Monday.
“Multiple sources said early Monday morning that presidents voted 12-2 to not play this fall, though the Big Ten said Monday afternoon no official vote had taken place,” the Detroit Free Press report indicated.
Whether or not the vote was “official” is a semantics game.
The Big Ten attempted to leak misinformation through the media later that same day to suggest that no decision had been made.
Just got a text from a Big Ten spokesman. "No vote has been held by our presidents and chancellors." Hence, the Big Ten watch continues.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) August 10, 2020
That now seems like a fairly transparent attempt to coddle angry administrators, coaches and players that had been completely shut out of the process. Public comments by prominent league coaches such as Jim Harbaugh, Ryan Day, Scott Frost and others made it clear that they had no voice in the decision.
The Big Ten wanted them to believe that their voices would he heard. But of course they weren’t.
All of these developments came just days after the league had announced a revised 2020 schedule. That was a process guided by the Big Ten, its athletic directors and the coaches.
But then the school presidents and chancellors got involved — and everything suddenly changed.
While Warren has been the subject of much outrage and derision over the last week, let’s be clear — this wasn’t his decision. Perhaps he supported the decision, and publicly that seems to be the case.
But Warren serves at the pleasure of the member schools, and it is his job to be the public punching bag for any decision reached by those institutions.
In the end, the decision to cancel the football season was made by some unknown majority but less than consensus of the university presidents and chancellors.
And it wasn’t a decision reached with player health and safety genuinely at the top of their minds. It just couldn’t have been based on what we have learned since.
College football has faced another serious threat to the long term health and well being of its players. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), caused by concussions, is a serious threat to every player at every level of the game.
The Big Ten’s response to CTE? For the offending player — ejection from the game.
But the show must go on.
From the jump, it has been difficult to reconcile why an unnecessarily quick decision was made to cancel Big Ten fall sports while at the same time the schools were about to welcome tens of thousands of students from all over the world to their campuses.
Several Big Ten coaches, including Tom Allen and Harbaugh have indicated that their contract tracing of positive COVID-19 test results led to events away from the football facilities. An off campus party was to blame for an outbreak on the Rutgers football team.
So why then were the presidents and chancellors in a rush to get the players away from the football facilities and back into the general population more often?
Moreover, without the promise of a season, wouldn’t the athletes have less incentive to avoid parties and other social events?
Does any of this sound like it is genuinely in the best interest of the health of the players?
One thing that is clear — athletes have a much higher profile than the general student body, while the general student body delivers much more revenue to the schools. That makes it relatively easy to see what else, beyond player safety, might be fueling seemingly inconsistent decisions.
Things just kept getting more bizarre as the news unfolded.
Many of us were introduced to a new medical term last week — myocarditis.
At least 15 Big Ten players developed myocarditis after contracting COVID-19, a high-ranking source in the conference told CBS Sports.
“Myocarditis is the ballgame right now,” the same source told CBS Sports. “Myocarditis is the major issue they’re looking at…Between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, that’s what is really driving the push to push this off to spring.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, myocarditis is the inflammation of the heart muscle. The condition is caused by many viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, drugs, chemicals, radiation and other diseases.
While myocarditis isn’t at all unique to COVID-19, it is a condition that can cause heart failure. It’s serious.
If you were concerned about the health and safety of players, myocarditis might be something that would keep you up at night.
That is why it was particularly head-scratching when we learned that the Big Ten was allowing its football teams to continue 20 hours a week of weight training and conditioning work.
You know, things that get your heart rate going.
Since myocarditis entered the conversation last week, several doctors have come out and questioned whether it was a legitimate enough concern to cancel an entire football season.
Dr. Chris Hutchinson, an ER physician and father of a Michigan football player was asked in a radio interview whether the Big Ten was right to be concerned about myocarditis.
“The vast majority of them (myocarditis cases), especially in young healthy people, are minor events. It would be extremely rare to have a kid get extremely sick and have those complications that they’ve talked about,” Hutchinson said in the interview with 97.1 The Ticket.
Myocarditis has never stopped the Big Ten before.
Let’s face it. Influenza outbreaks are relatively common on college football teams. Myocarditis is a possible byproduct of having the flu, and there is no evidence that COVID-19 induced myocarditis is more virulent than influenza induced myocarditis. Of course no college football seasons have been canceled due to concerns about myocarditis caused by the flu.
Writing for Eleven Warriors, Dr. Aloiya Earl a sports medicine physician in Dayton, indicated that practitioners in her profession were already well aware of the risk of myocarditis and already had several mitigation protocols in place to ensure players were eased back in after recovering from COVID-19.
“We know to look for it, know how to catch it, and we had planned on screening for it prior to an athlete ever stepping foot back on the playing field after testing positive for COVID-19,” Earl said. “This is our bread and butter. It’s what we do.”
Even the scientific data that the Big Ten considered when evaluating the risk of myocarditis came under intense scrutiny last week.
University of Michigan cardiologist Dr. Venk Murthy said “It could be reasonable to cancel, just not on the basis of this paper which is highlighted extensively,” Murthy said in a tweet in reference to a paper being relied upon by the Big Ten.
Mayo Clinic cardiologist Michael Ackerman debunked the applicability of that same study when he spoke to Big 12.
Ackerman said it’d be a “scientific foul” to infer that those findings are relevant for 18 to 24-year old athletes. “You cannot make that leap,” Ackerman exclaimed.
In large part influenced by Ackerman, the Big 12 decided to move forward with the season.
Perhaps in an effort to save face, more strange theories regarding the abrupt cancellation emerged from the conference last week.
One concern in B10 (that isn’t being mentioned) is players being infected by opposing team and then infecting fellow students back on campus. “We have to be concerned with more than one team,” one B10 leader said.
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) August 11, 2020
Is this serious? As schools welcome the general student body to their campuses, they are somehow more worried about two tested and healthy football teams cross-contaminating each other in an empty stadium during 10 days out of a year?
That is a couple hundred football players vs. the entire student body. Come on man.
With so much absurdity and hypocrisy emanating from the Big Ten and its schools — and so few answers, it is difficult to not wonder what in the hell is really going on here.
What fueled the Big Ten’s secretive weekend meeting that led to the cancellation of its fall sports?
Was it a fear of high profile outbreaks and incidents leading to lawsuits? That is what many believe, but CTE would seem to carry the same risks and the sport has steamrolled forward.
You’d like to think that politics aren’t in play, although it is no secret which way academia leans on the right/left spectrum. It can’t be excluded.
With rumblings about players organizing and forcing the conferences into collective bargaining, did the Big Ten cancel to protect its sham known as amateurism?
Maybe it is a case of all of the above?
And maybe there are in fact legitimate concerns about player safety right now. Of course there are. Perhaps we should give the Big Ten the benefit of the doubt. None of this is easy.
But it is time for the Big Ten and its presidents to be much more transparent and forthcoming about what specifically led them to this abrupt decision, and especially if they have medical data that the other conferences that are proceeding need to know about.
The Big Ten owes answers to the players, coaches, administrators and fans.
A petition started by Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields has been signed by nearly 300,000 people.
Fields and most of his fellow athletes just want to play.
The rest of us just want answers.
What were the detailed underpinnings of the decision to cancel, and who made the decision? If there was a vote, how did they vote?
This whole affair has been a miserable, hypocritical, absurd mess — and it didn’t have to be this way.
Career aspirations have been impacted. Jobs have been lost. Local economies destroyed. The Big Ten and its member school brands have all been tarnished. All of this could have a lasting, generational impact.
Maybe it was all for good and noble reasons, but people want and deserve answers.
And until then, no one should get the benefit of the doubt.
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