The Big Ten became the first big domino to fall in making a change to the upcoming fall college sports schedule when the conference decided that they would be participating in a conference-only schedule for the fall. The one heading up that decision is Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, who was appointed to the position in June of last year.
In an interview with The State News, Warren discussed the recent decision, the outlook for college sports returning in the fall, and what a conference-only season could look like.
Why did the conference feel that right now was the best time to make a decision to move to a conference-only schedule for fall sports?
We're taking this one step at a time. We are leaning on our medical experts, and the information, as you well know, is changing daily. The health, safety and wellness of our student athletes, coaches, staff members and fans are our number one priority, but our focus is making sure our student-athletes are healthy, safe and well.
That's our primary focus. And then also we're trying to figure out how we can play the season in a safe and responsible manner, based upon the advice of our medical experts. And as I said last week, we're also prepared not to play should the circumstances dictate. So, from the timing of it, there is no right time, per se, it's just we felt that this was the best time to do it. In all of these situations that we're trying to say, what's the right time, wrong time? I don't know if that actually really exists. We just felt that this was the most appropriate time.
But again, we're taking everything one step at a time.
One key distinction in the Big Ten’s press release in the statement was, “If” fall sports can happen, we will play the conference-only schedule. So, what will need to happen for fall college sports to return?
This is something I'm working on every day, every single day. We have to continually lean on the advice of our medical experts. I guess that's where this has to come. Now, this can't be an emotional decision, this has to be a decision based on medical advice, and again, keeping in mind that our top priority is the health and safety wellness of our student-athletes.
Transitioning to football here, with this decision, three non-conference games will be lost for this season. Is there a plan in place yet to replace those three games or will those games be scrapped completely?
This is really where the work begins with the potential schedules that would be put together and all the operations, logistics, that data that need to be worked through. So we don't have that answer at this point in time, and that is something that we're focusing on over the next couple weeks.
On Thursday you were blunt that there is a possibility that fall sports may not happen due to the pandemic, so at this point, what is your confidence level that fall sports will happen this fall?
That’s hard to answer from a conscious level standpoint. I’m always a very optimistic person and always will remain optimistic about life in general and have a belief in people. As far as a football season, fall sports, we just have to make sure we lean on the best advice of our medical experts. There's a lot of sports going on around the country now that I always keep an eye on. But again, our focus right now has to be what can we do from a health and safety standpoint for our Big Ten student-athletes. That has to be the focus for all of our fall sports. We have to just continually make the best decisions. It is really, really a fluid situation and it changes regularly, and so we're doing the best thing we can to to make the best decisions based upon the best information.
One of the things that has been floated has been the possibility of fall sports being pushed to the spring. Is that something that the Big Ten is considering at this point in time?
Right now our focus is what can we do to work through all of these medical issues to have a conference-only season for our fall sports. There have been a lot of scenarios that have been discussed and floated around that people across the country are talking about. But as of now, our focus is what can we do to have our student-athletes healthy, safe and well, and then focus on how to play the season in a safe and responsible manner based on the best advice of our medical experts. And then also being prepared that we may not play if the medical advice and circumstances conclude that.
The pandemic has been a financial strain to not only sports, but every facet in our world. At this time, are you expecting any Big Ten school to make any cuts to their athletic program?
I haven't I haven't had any discussions about that. We just have been focused. There's been so much going on in the last couple months with all the issues that we're dealing with right now with COVID-19, all the social injustice issues, return to play, name, image and likeness, there a lot of things that are going on now. So, we're continually just taking this one step at a time, this is one step in the process. We'll do the best that we can based upon the information that we have.
The Big Ten conference geographically is very large, sprawling from Nebraska to New Jersey. When you're having to look at multiple states with multiple policies and multiple opinions on the coronavirus, how difficult is it to make those decisions while having to account for so many different states?
We go across 11 states and go from Nebraska to New Jersey, and so all those different things are taken into account. We as people need to make sure we're doing everything we possibly can to not spread the virus, stay as healthy as we can and then all of us make smart, adult decisions as far as following the advice of our medical experts.