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Big Ten says decision to postpone fall sports 'will not be revisited'

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After more than a week of criticism, the Big Ten Conference answered why it postponed the fall sports season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren wrote an open letter to the “Big Ten community,” which was posted on the Big Ten website and shared on social media Wednesday evening. Warren wrote that the decision to postpone fall sports won’t be revisited, despite players and coaches’ pushes for an overturn, and that the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors’ vote on the matter was “overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports.”

There had been debate, fueled by comments by administrators and coaches around the Big Ten, if a vote had taken place at all.

“We understand the disappointment and questions surrounding the timing of our decision to postpone fall sports, especially in light of releasing a football schedule only six days prior to that decision. From the beginning, we 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. That is why we took simultaneous paths in releasing the football schedule, while also diligently monitoring the spread of the virus, testing, and medical concerns as student-athletes were transitioning to full-contact practice,” Warren wrote.

When Warren appeared on the Big Ten Network on Aug. 11 to discuss the conference’s decision, he said the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic was the key factor, but didn’t go into further detail. In his open letter, Warren listed some of those concerns.

Medical experts gave “little indication” that Big Ten campuses could gain control of COVID-19 transmission prior to the start of the fall sports schedule, Warren wrote, and as practices ramped up, especially in football, Big Ten medical staffs “did not think the interventions we had planned would be adequate” to slow the spread. General students returning to campus was also a concern.

Other universities still planning to play fall sports, such as Notre Dame and North Carolina, have had to pause athletic activities and shut down campus due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Warren also wrote that there was too much doctors don’t know about the virus in terms of recovery and long-term effects, including heart risks like myocarditis.

The conference also didn’t believe that sufficient coronavirus risk mitigation like physical distancing and face coverings could be achieved in contact sports. Availabilty of rapid testing was also an issue, Warren wrote. That concern could be alleviated if the SalivaDirect test, recently approved by the FDA, can be widespread and get results quickly.

“We understand the passion of the many student-athletes and their families who were disappointed by the decision, but also know there are many who have a great deal of concern and anxiety regarding the pandemic,” Warren wrote.

The conference is exploring scheduling models for football that begin in the winter, and is determining how many games can be played in a calendar year while keeping athletes safe. Warren wrote that the conference wants to hold a Big Ten Championship Game after the winter/spring season.

“We have tremendous appreciation and understanding regarding what participation in sports means to our student-athletes, their families, our campus communities and our fans. We will continue to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” Warren wrote.

In another open letter released Wednesday, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said some teams could be back to competition in 2020.

"While a decision has been made by the presidents of the Big Ten Conference to postpone the fall season, we view this as a temporary delay, and (Ohio State president-elect) Dr. (Kristina) Johnson has directed us to prepare for the possibility of bringing at least some of our fall sports back to practice and competition by the end of the year," Smith wrote.

"We are actively planning for the winter and spring seasons for all sports, including the return of football."

Badgers fans react to postponed football season


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