Healing begins in Big Ten, but discord still simmers amid postponement
Let the healing process begin.
At least that’s the thinking with Wednesday’s release of Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren’s open letter to the Big Ten community. He offered a mea culpa for not communicating well amid the aftershocks of the August 11 announcement by the Big Ten to postpone the 2020 season. Still, that decision—the timing of it, in particular, in addition to not explaining the thought process in making it—still rings with sting for some.
“We all pushed (to wait on making a decision to play in 2020),” a Big Ten head coach told GoldandBlack.com. “If you have to, just delay. Give us a chance to get started. Absolutely. It kind of came out of nowhere when the decision was made.”
Was it a shock when the news was delivered last week amid a COVID-19 pandemic that Big Ten officials feel makes it too hazardous to play in 2020?
"Oh, yeah,” said the head coach. “No question. Absolutely.”
Few can disagree with the notion that the Big Ten didn't handle communication of this matter with aplomb.
“I was totally caught off guard,” said the head coach. “We were actually stating to get things going and feeling better about some things. And all of a sudden, this happens. The first red flag was when they told us to go back to helmets only (August 8). We knew something was up.”
Purdue's Jeff Brohm also had stated last week that he wished the Big Ten could have delayed its decision.
“In my opinion, when the SEC backs it up to September 26, I thought we should have, as well, because it would allow us more time … “ said Brohm.
The Boilermaker coach sprung into action and authored a detailed nine-page plan on how to execute spring and fall seasons in 2021.
The rancor over the Big Ten's move extended beyond coaches. The parents of Big Ten football players at Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois and Michigan sent letters to the league office demanding an explanation. Buckeye star quarterback Justin Fields started a petition that pushed for the opportunity to play in 2020.
"Do I think things are going to change?” said Penn State's James Franklin on a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday prior to the release of Warren's letter. “I don’t think we’re going to go back to a fall season. I don’t think the petitions and the voices are going to allow us to go back this fall. I wish that was the case, but I don’t see that happening."
As Franklin forecast, none of the blowback mattered. Warren underscored in his open letter that his decision "will not be revisited."
Now, the good news, the hopeful scuttlebutt: Reports have surfaced that a winter football season is in the works for the Big Ten. It reportedly would start in early January and end in late February and likely include eight games.
It's hoped the early start would encourage players to stick around and play, as the season would end soon enough to allow players between six and seven weeks to prep for the 2021 NFL draft.
Who knows? The Big Ten already has lost its share of star power via opt outs, with Purdue's Rondale Moore, Penn State's Micah Parsons and Minnesota's Rashod Bateman--among others--already bolting.
"While I appreciate the complexities and difficulties of this decision for the leaders of our conference, I’m extremely frustrated because we have very few answers to communicate to our young men,” said Franklin.
Now, the Big Ten will sit on the sideline and hope to play in spring 2021 along with the other FBS leagues that have punted on the 2020 season: Pac-12, Mountain West and MAC, which was the first FBS conference to bail.
“If we could just delay and get some things figured out here and give us a chance to learn as we go,” said the head coach. “If the doctors say it’s not safe, we are gonna defer to them. That’s the right thing to do.”
When the Big Ten made its announcement not to play in 2020 last Tuesday, a few Big Ten coaches were vocal with their displeasure. And no coach or school displayed more angst than Scott Frost and Nebraska.
“It’s like anything else,” said the head coach. “When you have a staff or team or organization, and you have your challenges and may have disagreements behind closed doors. You need to hash those out.
“When you move forward and make a decision as a group, you support that. That is what you do. And so, it's unfortunate. There's a lot of frustration for a lot of different reasons. You'd like to see everybody be aligned. You can disagree along the way, and voice your concerns. But you’d like for conferences to be unified.”
While the Big Ten sits out the fall, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 continue to practice with hopes of playing. Doubt may be cast on those conference’s ability to start and then finish a 2020 season, which for each league includes 10 games.
As students are returning to campuses across the nation, spikes of COVID-19 infections are occurring. After one week, North Carolina sent its students home to do remote learning after a COVID-19 outbreak. Despite all students fleeing Chapel Hill, N.C., the school says the football players will remain to train for the season.
“That’s not my charge,” Tar Heels coach Mack Brown told reporters on Tuesday. “I’ve got a lot on my plate and that’s not one of them. I was told we’re moving forward. And most (players) were online anyway. We’ve still got our graduate students going to class … I don't think yesterday affects us much in any way.”
Also this week, Notre Dame suspended in-person classes after just eight days amid COVID-19 issues.
“Crazy, crazy times,” said the Big Ten head coach. “That’s for sure.”
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