‘Wouldn’t think about reversing’: Illinois Chancellor Has No Regrets In Decision To Postpone & Restart Football This Fall

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Despite heavy public criticism repeated since voting to postpone football in the Big Ten Conference, University of Illinois chancellor Robert Jones said he has no regrets on the decision reached either on Aug. 11 or Sept. 16.

Jones, who went nearly silent with the media since his vote to postpone Big Ten fall sports on Aug. 11, said Wednesday he was confident the decision to postpone, which was met with immediate and loud resistance from league athletics directors, head coach, players, parents of players and fans, and the decision announced Wednesday to resume fall football starting on Oct. 23-24, were the correct decisions made based on science and data.

“The court of public opinion is going to be there regardless,” Jones said. “But what allows me to sleep at night, as a scientist, as a scholar for several decades now, I’ve always learned to be driven by the data.”

In a Zoom video media conference for statewide and local media Wednesday, Jones and Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman addressed the miscommunication element of the window of time that led to outside frustration regarding the decisions by the Big Ten Conference Chancellors and Presidents in August and the decision to resume football this fall.

“The data can be interpreted and misinterpreted,” Jones said. “We made the best decision that we could with the information we had on hand on Aug. 11. Wouldn’t think about reversing that decision based on the information we had at that time. It was the right decision to make given the gaps that could not give me, as the chancellor of this university, the great comfort to send hundreds of our young men out to play football and they could do it safely and it wouldn’t create a broader problem for the university community. That was absolutely core and critical for me as the chancellor of this university.”

According to the league media release, the league will use data provided by each Chief Infection Officer (CInO) to make decisions about the continuation of practice and competition, as determined by team positivity rate and population positivity rate, based on a seven-day rolling average:

Team positivity rate (number of positive tests divided by total number of tests administered):

Green: 0-2%

Orange: 2-5%

Red: >5%

Population positivity rate (number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk):

Green: 0-3.5%

Orange: 3.5-7.5%

Red: >7.5%

Decisions to alter or halt practice and competition will be based on the following scenarios:

Green/Green and Green/Orange: Team continues with normal practice and competition.

Orange/Orange and Orange/Red: Team must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention (alter practice and meeting schedule, consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition).

Red/Red: Team must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved.

All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI. Following cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis. The daily testing will begin by September 30, 2020.

Yahoo! Sports investigative reporter Pete Thamel confirmed Saturday the medical committee of the Big Ten’s return to play task force made a lengthy presentation to eight presidents and chancellors of the league on Saturday afternoon. Jones was reportedly one of the COP/C members being presented with this initial presentation before it was presented to all 14 members of the COP/C the next day. 

“Now it was clear to me with this new information being presented that a lot of concerns (from Aug. 11) had been mitigated,” Jones said Wednesday.