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College football: Silence from Kevin Warren, Big Ten on football decision looks worse by the minute

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

On Tuesday, the Southeastern Conference outlined protocols for having fans in attendance for college football games this fall. Face coverings over the nose and mouth required when entering/exiting/moving around the stadium and when social-distancing isn’t feasible.

On Tuesday, North Carolina coach Mack Brown offered a positive outlook for Atlantic Coast Conference football, saying that coronavirus test results were coming back within 24 hours.

On Tuesday, the Big Ten Conference … so far has remained quiet.

As the voices of opposition to last week’s Big Ten decision to postpone fall sports grew louder, league commissioner Kevin Warren began his seventh straight day of media silence.

The silence from the Big Ten Conference offices and commissioner Kevin Warren has been in sharp contrast to vocal football parents seeking answers.

No football, no way in the Big Ten and Pacific-12 Conference.

Football, full speed ahead in the SEC, ACC and Big 12.

This is the wild state of college football 2020 during a deadly pandemic, a game of conference-vs.-conference chicken. It’s no wonder emotions are stirred up. It’s no wonder the father of a probable first-round draft pick for Ohio State on Monday night purchased a plane ticket from Orlando to Chicago. Randy Wade, the father of star Buckeyes defensive back Shaun Wade, invited others to join him as he looks to gain an audience with Warren on Friday morning at the Big Ten’s offices in Rosemont, Illinois.

Gary Koerner, the father of Iowa safety Jack Koerner, tweeted that Hawkeye parents — who last Friday became the Big Ten’s first organized, pro-football group of parents — will be there, too.

The center of the frustration among parents is the lack of transparency from the Big Ten. A Monday-morning Register inquiry about whether the Big Ten would meet or respond to the parents remained unanswered 24 hours later.

Was there a vote of presidents and chancellors or wasn’t there? That is now a question, with Minnesota’s president saying “we didn’t vote, per se” but reached a group conclusion. We know Iowa president Bruce Harreld and athletics director Gary Barta were actively advocating for a fall season.

What medical data was used to make the fall decision? The Pac-12 has been forthcoming; the Big Ten has not, as other leagues planning to play cite medical advice for pushing forward. The Big 12 leaned on Mayo Clinic cardiologist Michael Ackerman, who said it would be “a scientific foul” to conclude that COVID-19 leads to myocarditis in 18- to 24-year-old athletes.

Yet the NCAA chief medical officer, Brian Hainline, said over the weekend that “everything would have to line up perfectly” for fall sports to be safely played given the current state of the pandemic nationally.

So, here we are. Conference vs. conference. 

It could very well turn out that the Big Ten will be validated by its decision to pull the plug on football, given the partying that we're already seeing on college campuses.

But nonetheless, the Big Ten’s rollout of the postponement has been nothing short of amateur hour. And it looks worse by the minute.

The introduction of saliva testing for the coronavirus, designed to produce fast results at a fraction of the cost, is providing hope not only for college football but colleges, in general. Last weekend, a saliva test developed at Yale in partnership with the NBA and National Basketball Players Association received FDA emergency use approval. 

The Big Ten should have known that such a test was close for use earlier, though. The University of Illinois, one of its flagship universities, has worked on a saliva test for months and announced on Aug. 10 its ability to expand that testing to a national level. They plan to test every student and faculty member — some 60,000 people — twice a week during the fall semester.

Could we see college football programs testing with far greater frequency by late September?  

Yet that development was ignored. One day later after the Illinois announcement, the Big Ten officially shut down fall sports anyway.

Why cancel then? Why nothing now? We need answers.

The Big Ten is bungling this one, and good for football parents for calling them on it.

The follow-up question remains: Can the Big Ten's decision be undone? Of course it could be, logistically. Again, that isn't to say it's 100% safe. Conference play doesn't begin in the Big 12 or SEC until Sept. 26. Iowa players, for example, were given this week off from team activities but were expected to resume weight-lifting and conditioning by Monday. It's realistic to suggest players could be game-ready in another 5½ weeks.

Were Big Ten presidents worried about players potentially unionizing in making their decision? We don't know. Would they be willing to reverse course on fall football, if fast-and-cheap saliva testing proves to be the biggest development in student-athlete safety? We don't know.

Will Big Ten parents actually get an audience with Warren on Friday? We don't know ... but stay tuned. Their voices can't be tuned out forever.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.