State political leaders pressure Big Ten for return of fall football season

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central
The Big Ten Conference has said its decision to postpone fall sports would not be revisited, but there is political pressure to revisit it.

Jack Whitver once tormented Iowa’s secondary in a key 2002 football game while playing wide receiver for Iowa State. Now, the former Cyclone wants to help the Hawkeyes get back on the field.

The Ankeny Republican and the majority leader of the Iowa Senate was one of 10 Midwest lawmakers who co-signed a letter that urges the Big Ten Conference to reverse its decision to postpone the fall sports season. Whitver and Pat Grassley, the speaker of Iowa’s House, joined legislators from Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to “defend the students’ long-term academic and career interests” as other conferences such as the Big 12 plan to play on during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitver said the letter (addressed to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, who represents the league’s 14 presidents and chancellors who voted 11-3 to postpone the season) was spearheaded by Michigan House speaker Lee Chatfield.

“I thought it was appropriate to sign on and state that we hope and we wish the Big Ten would reconsider, and hopefully they can play football this fall,” Whitver told the Register. “It sounds like there are conversations happening that they may revisit it.

“I’m under no illusion that a letter from a few speakers of the House and a few majority leaders of the Senate in these states is going to change their minds, but just having us give our input could be worth it.”

Whitver caught eight passes for 132 yards from quarterback Seneca Wallace in Iowa State’s 36-31 win at Iowa on Sept. 14, 2002 — which turned out to be the Hawkeyes’ only blemish during an 11-1 regular season. His name recognition from football has no doubt aided his political career. It’s that type of opportunity that the letter argues Big Ten athletes are being denied.

Quoting from the letter:

“Recent actions by other conferences across the country to start football and other fall sports have placed the Big Ten, its members and students at a disadvantage. These athletes are losing a vital part of student life and are becoming less marketable to future employers with each passing week. Additionally, our local universities stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars that support vital student scholarships.

“Our coaches and players should be given a chance to make them work. After all, this region is home to some of the world’s leading institutions of higher learning, scientific research and medicine, and we are confident that they can continue to safeguard the health and safety of our student-athletes.”

Whitver added: “Obviously, there are a lot of Iowa athletes who need the chance to play to prove they are ready for the NFL. And the difference between getting drafted or not could depend on how well they play this year.”

The legislators’ letter marked the second straight Tuesday in which the Big Ten was publicly prodded by politicians. Last week, President Donald Trump talked with Warren and urged the conference to play “immediately.” Trump re-upped the topic in a Sunday tweet, in which he suggested the league “is looking really good, but may lose (teams from) Michigan, Illinois and Maryland because of those governors’ ridiculous lack of interest or political support.”

All 10 legislators who signed Tuesday’s letter are Republicans.

Whitver said this action was not a ploy for political points.

“I didn’t ask who all was signing on; I didn’t ask if they were Republicans or Democrats,” Whitver said. “I certainly know a lot of Democrats that are football fans as well that want to see their teams play this fall. I am not on the ballot. I have nothing to gain out of all of this, other than to be a voice for so many Iowans that have reached out to me.”