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Leistikow: 5 thoughts on Big Ten football, including on Kevin Warren, a winter season and extra eligibility

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Wednesday evening brought a bevy of developments for those seeking answers in the wake of the Big Ten Conference postponing the fall sports season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fall football season felt its final nail in the coffin, as attention turned to 2021.

After eight days, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren ended his silence.

A dissenting Big Ten chancellor provided key insight into the process.

Student-athletes wondering about their eligibility got some much-needed clarity.

And football parents? Well, they remain undeterred.

Let’s tackle those five topics.

There will be no football games in Kinnick Stadium in 2020, and even if there is a 2021 winter/spring season, dome sites could be a focal point.

No. 1: In a letter posted on the Big Ten’s website, Warren ruled out a return to fall football.

That ended any discussion about the conference reversing course on its Aug. 11 decision, as the Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences continue to plow forward with plans to execute fall schedules, starting next month.

There is momentum for a plan articulated by Ohio State coach Ryan Day (and seconded by Penn State coach James Franklin) for a winter season that could start as early as Jan. 1. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that playing games in indoor facilities within the Big Ten footprint was part of the proposed plan. The idea of starting that early (and finishing in early March) puts roughly six months of cushion between a “spring” season and traditional fall season.

On our Hawk Central radio show Wednesday night, Hawkeye parents were wary of their sons playing two seasons — even if shortened — in the same calendar year.

“That's absurd,” said Rodney Nixon, the father of Iowa junior defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon — who has NFL potential. “… Playing two seasons in the same year; they’re not middle-school kids any more.

“It's really tough on their bodies. It's tough mentally. It's tough physically. It's tough spiritually. I think they need rest, and they need time to recuperate.”

Already, we’re seeing some prospects from all conferences opt out of the college season with an eye on the 2021 NFL Draft. If the Big Ten plans and executes a January-February model, you’ll see many more opt-outs … and not one student-athlete should be criticized for choosing that path.

But at the same time, a lot of players would gladly take advantage of any January-February games (six? eight?) to put their best foot forward on film for NFL scouts.

The discussion of viability of the winter idea will continue. The Big Ten is already working on a schedule and could have it distributed next week.

No. 2: Warren acknowledged in interviews that his communication could be improved.

That has been the biggest (and most valid) criticism of the first-year Big Ten commissioner. Even though he answers to the 14 league presidents and chancellors, he has bungled the messaging of the Aug. 11 decision by speaking in generalities and failing to answer basic questions.

Wednesday’s letter and subsequent interviews (including with The Athletic and ESPN) were not validating for Warren, but served as a marginal improvement. The letter outlined three primary reasons why the conference chose to “overwhelmingly” postpone the season. In short:

  • Rising transmission rates with little hope that campuses can gain control of the new coronavirus;
  • Unknowns about the long-term affects of the virus, particularly surrounding the heart;
  • Ongoing concerns about contact tracing.

Warren also wrote that despite national expansion of saliva-based coronavirus tests, "access to accurate tests is currently limited." Still ... the Big Ten had built-in buffers on its revised fall schedule to attempt to play later this fall, yet chose not to try. That is a lingering sticking point Warren has not satisfactorily answered or communicated to athletes, coaches and parents.

Warren's message has also fallen flat for some because his son, Powers, is practicing and planning to play for Mississippi State this fall in the SEC. Warren told The Athletic that it was a difficult family decision, but “we need to focus on what’s right for our nearly 10,000 student-athletes at 14 institutions.”

Whether you agree or not with Kevin Warren on this or anything, let’s at least not demonize his 21-year-old son for taking advantage of an opportunity to play.

No. 3: Nebraska chancellor Ronnie Green said there was indeed a vote.

During an enlightening appearance on KLIN-AM radio in Lincoln, Nebraska, Green answered one of the many curious questions raised over the past week about whether the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors actually voted. Lead officials at Minnesota and Penn State had suggested there wasn’t a vote. Green said there was, and it took place Aug. 11 — the day the season was postponed.

“There was an overwhelming consensus. It was not unanimous,” Green said, adding that Nebraska “felt like we had all the mechanisms in place for us to be successful moving forward in the season.”

It is widely believed that Iowa president Bruce Harreld dissented, too, but he has not stated as such on the record. Harreld's office on Thursday morning declined a Register request for an interview.

Green’s comments were notably bullish for a winter football season.

“There is a growing level of enthusiasm for what a winter schedule could look like,” he said, “(and) a growing level of enthusiasm that this will work.”

No. 4: Eligibility relief was granted for fall-sports athletes, and it will create interesting choices.

First, the NCAA Division I Council did the right thing by recommending Wednesday night that an athlete who plays in 50% or fewer of the maximum games allowed in 2020-21 can get extended eligibility. (For example, in women’s soccer the traditional max is 20 — so 10 or fewer would qualify.)

Additionally, athletes who choose extended eligibility would not count against team scholarship limits in 2021-22. Assuming universities can find a way to afford it, that could mean having 90-plus scholarship football players in fall 2021. (But schools would need to revert back to the FBS limit of 85 by fall 2022.)

The eligibility relief is open to anyone but especially beneficial for seniors. Pick a Hawkeye who was resigned to drawing a short stick for his final college season. Receiver Brandon Smith? Offensive lineman Coy Cronk? Tight end Shaun Beyer? Kicker Keith Duncan? Any one of them could choose to play in zero or some winter-season games (if they occur) and still return for fall 2021.

The legislation gives athletes more choices and gives the schools more flexibility. Hey, that’s a positive.

No. 5: Big Ten parents are still planning to visit the league offices Friday.

That’s according to Randy Wade, the father of top Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade.

“The next step to make a difference is to show up. We have (to) show the world that we are not satisfied with (Warren’s) communication,” Randy Wade tweeted Wednesday, as he encouraged other Big Ten parents to join him in Rosemont, Illinois.

Some Hawkeye parents have expressed vocal opposition to the conference’s decision and transparency. In a statement provided to the Register on Thursday, the parents said they would be sending representatives to join Wade in Rosemont and "firmly reject" Warren's Wednesday statements.

“I know my son's very frustrated, and I know all the parents from our calls that we've had, their sons are in the same boat,” Cronk’s father, Nick, said during our radio show. “The levels of frustration are through the roof. It just breaks your heart for the young men, and it really breaks your heart that nobody has stepped up to give the universities any answers so that they can share with our children and with us what’s going on. We're all very invested in their love for the game.”

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.