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Amid Mounting Pressure, the Big Ten Has Some Explaining to Do

Commissioner Kevin Warren needs to be transparent about the decision to cancel the fall season while multiple other conferences push forward.

Show us your work, Big Ten.

With your conference’s credibility burning down and league members holding the matches that lit the fire, the time has come for maximum transparency. From the cranky coaches to the parent letters to the player petition to the new round of administrative molotov cocktails Monday, you have some ‘splaining to do.

Tell us something. Check that; tell us everything.

Tell us how every aspect of the Aug. 11 decision to call off fall sports went down. Tell us what factors were weighed, and which ones weighed most. Show us which medical data was discussed. Details and specifics, please. No banal generalities.

The Pac-12, which has been a boiling kettle of dysfunction for years, managed to reach the same decision with none of the drama—in part because they were very public about their medical information. When the Pac-12 is making you look bad, you look bad.

Then take the next step, Big Ten. Tell us what the vote was by the league’s university presidents and chancellors. Or if there was a vote.

A startling new blaze began Monday afternoon when Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour told the media on a Zoom call, “It is unclear to me whether or not there was a vote. No one’s ever told me there was. I just don’t know whether there actually was a vote by the chancellors and presidents.” While everyone was recoiling from that blast, Minneapolis Fox Sports 9 reporter Jeff Wald tweeted that Minnesota president Joan Gabel “wouldn’t call it a vote, per se,” last week. Wald said Gabel referred to it is "a deliberative process where we came to a decision together.”

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If there was no vote, why the hell not? Was this a 14-president decision or a one-man commissioner decision? (Emails to the Big Ten office asking for further information on the vote/non-vote were not returned right away Monday.)

This explanation deserves more than just a vote total, by the way. Tell us the individual vote by institution. If the people running these huge and prestigious universities are too timorous to put their name behind their vote, they should be ashamed. If they went with the old bureaucratic semantic dodge of not taking a formal vote while very much counting “informal” votes, they should also be ashamed.

This isn’t a jury deciding a murder verdict that puts someone in prison for life; it’s a bunch of well-compensated presidents deciding whether or not to play football. Show some backbone. Stand behind a decision.

We know any vote/non-vote wasn’t unanimous, because commissioner Kevin Warren acknowledged as much in a generally evasive interview with Big Ten Network anchor Dave Revsine last week. On the day before the decision was announced, Dan Patrick said on his radio show that the vote was 12–2 not to play, with Nebraska and Iowa in opposition. Subsequent chatter has said the vote was 8–6, but Chicago Tribune reporter Teddy Greenstein tweeted this week that a league source told him that alleged vote total was “ridiculous.”

That’s a lot of conflicting information. Clear that up for us, Big Ten. And for yourself.

The old saying about hiding information from the public is that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and you, Big Ten, suddenly need a massive fumigation. The amazing part of it is how much the sludge is building up from the inside. Nobody is trying too terribly hard to play nice.

Before you even announced your decision, coaches were publicly applying pressure. Nebraska coach Scott Frost was talking about playing a schedule outside the conference. Then Ohio State coach Ryan Day said, “We cannot cancel the season right now, we have to at the least postpone it and give us some time to keep reevaluating everything that is going on.” James Franklin of Penn State chimed in as well.

When the vote didn’t go their way, the complaining continued from various places around the league. Attorney Tom Mars put together an “Action Plan” for league coaches detailing how schools might try to overturn the NCAA waiver ban and regain the season. Then the parents from several teams started their helicopter assault on the league, firing off letters to the commissioner asking for explanations and a chance to play. Then Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, best player in the conference, put together a petition that's garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures. On the same day, the news broke about Saliva/Direct, a potential testing breakthrough that reopened debate about whether your controversial cancellation came too soon.

The volume of open discontent has been fairly breathtaking, and seemingly indicative that Warren wasn’t prepared for the amount of eggs that would be broken. The first-year commissioner was dealt a ridiculously difficult hand, and he was admirably consistent in saying all along that the league might well not play this year.

Then it happened, and everyone flipped out. And since then his job has become much more difficult.

Warren did not articulate the reasons for the fall cancelation well on Aug. 11, and since then has been unsuccessful at getting the conference to coalesce around that decision. Day has continued to tweet “#Fight” over the past couple of days, alluding to playing in the fall, including once Monday afternoon in support of Fields’s petition. That was followed up by a tweet from Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith that said, “LOVE MY COACH!!!”

Smith is as entrenched and respected as any athletic director in the country. He’s also been a reliable part of the NCAA deliberative body, serving on countless committees over the years. He is, in many ways, The Establishment. And if The Establishment is this comfortable with publicly stoking conflict, that’s a problem for Warren.

Jim Delany, Warren’s predecessor, very likely would have had the presidents out doing his P.R. work for him with the media and on campus. But few of those university leaders are stepping in front of the stuff being hurled from all directions at the new commissioner. It’s likely that he simply hasn’t had the time yet to develop relationships and alliances in those areas; it might also be indicative that the presidents didn’t like the way Warren handled this huge decision.

(Minnesota has been one of the islands of support in recent days for Warren. Coach P.J. Fleck has said he understands the decision, and that all 30 players he asked about it agreed. Quarterback Tanner Morgan told The Athletic Monday, "I commend them for being the conference that actually put player health and safety first, like they said all along.”)

Parent letters and petitions are unlikely to change anyone’s mind at the top of the Big Ten food chain. Tom Mars’s attempt to overturn the NCAA transfer waiver ban is a long shot at best. Warren and the conference can ride this storm out without having to go back on anything.

But if they want to make people understand this decision, show us the work that went into it. Give us the facts. Tell us the vote. Overshare. Your credibility is at stake, Big Ten. Speak up.

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