Opinion | Time for the Big Ten to get its act together

With speculation of a reinstated fall football season mounting, it’s time for the Big Ten to speak in uniformity and with clarity.



Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren speaks about the cancellation of the men’s basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind., on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

Leadership and certainty are two things that always seem to be in short supply. The pandemic has highlighted this in a variety of settings from universities and high schools to politics and professional sports leagues.

Not excused from that bunch is collegiate athletics. For years, the NCAA has refused to budge even a little on its stance regarding amateurism in collegiate athletics. After California passed a bill that would allow student-athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness as soon as 2023, the NCAA was essentially forced to start drafting new NIL legislation – which should’ve happened a long time ago, but that’s another take for another time.

Now, it appears the Big Ten Conference is trying to match the NCAA’s stubbornness, but not with regard to name, image, and likeness. No, the conference is trying to match the NCAA’s lack of leadership with regard to the now-postponed 2020 Big Ten football season.

“Confusing” is the word my colleagues at The Daily Iowan and my peers in Hawkeye sports media have used to describe the choices made this fall.

In early August, we knew the football season was rapidly approaching, and we still had no insight as to what the season would look like and how the Big Ten Conference would deal with COVID-19. All we’d seen was negative speculation from college football’s foremost analysts like Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler.

On Aug. 5, we finally got some information on medical protocols that would be implemented to protect the health and wellness of student-athletes this fall.

Also released that day was the revised schedule for all teams. The 10-game conference-only schedule didn’t make sense to some of us. Why can Iowa play Maryland, but not in-state rival Iowa State?

RELATED: Point/Counterpoint | Did the Big Ten make the right call?

Just six days following the new schedule release, the Big Ten elected to postpone the season until the spring (or maybe the winter), citing the advice of medical professionals.

Describing what followed the decision to postpone all fall sports as “chaos” is not an understatement. Immediately, there was talk of schools like Nebraska and Ohio State playing out-of-conference this fall — though those rumors were quickly squashed by leadership at both schools.

Then, there was dispute and debate upon how the determination was finalized.

Supposedly, there had been some type of vote among the presidents of the 14 schools that decided the fate of the season. The results of that vote were 11-3 in favor of postponing the season, but we didn’t get that information until weeks after the postponement. In mid-August, Penn State’s athletics head Sandy Barbour said she wasn’t even sure there was a vote.

Many speculated that the Big Ten’s decision would create a snowball effect to be felt across college football, but in the end, the Pac-12 was the only other Power Five conference to jump ship on fall football.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren has stood his ground on the move to cancel, despite protests and pushback from parents of student-athletes. On Aug. 19, Warren affirmed that the decision would not be revisited.

Not even protests at the conference headquarters in Illinois or legal action from eight Nebraska football players caused leadership to budge.

While the conference has stated that the lawsuit “has no merit,” it has not stated whether recent rumors on the voting process have any truth to them. Each day I log onto Twitter, it seems like the rumor mill has turned.

One day, we hear university presidents have changed their minds and want a re-vote on the fall season; the next, we hear the conference is targeting a start date sometime in January; and the day after that, we hear the season will start in October or around Thanksgiving.

The landscape changes so quickly that it can be difficult to keep up. Whether the gossip is founded or unfounded, it’s time for the Big Ten to speak with definitive purpose and uniformity.

If there is no hope for a fall season, then speak uniformly and tell us that the return-to-play rumors are hearsay. If there is merit to the idea, then tell us that the conference is reconsidering.

Don’t leave us guessing while Iowa high school football is played and Iowa State is set to kick off its season. Don’t implement safety protocols and continue to allow teams to practice despite the postponement of fall sports.

Don’t give us hope if there isn’t any to be had.

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