Justin Fields and B1G parents might not be able to bring back season, but their voice is still important
The pressure on Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren is mounting by the day.
Starting late last week and continuing over the weekend, B1G parents from Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska separately wrote letters to Warren demanding answers as to why the fall season was suddenly postponed without much of an explanation.
And Sunday, the league’s best player, Justin Fields, created a petition urging Warren and Big Ten presidents to reverse its decision postponing the fall season. It had over 150,000 signatures as of Sunday night.
While all of these efforts are admirable, understandable and any other number of adjectives, they probably won’t work. I hate to be a buzzkill — and I sincerely hope I’m wrong — but I highly doubt this brings back the fall season. However noble this effort is, I can’t imagine Warren will think to himself, “Oh, well since parents want their kids to play, we should have a fall season.” Or, “Our players want to play, so we should have a fall season.”
Warren knew how players, parents and coaches felt when he made the initial announcement last week. Reversing course now would require a massive hit to his credibility and ego and would create all sorts of issues for him moving forward. You can argue that those things shouldn’t matter and the only thing that should matter is doing the right thing. Warren believes waiting until the spring is the right thing to do.
But it’s still important to bring these perfectly logical requests to Warren because it can teach him an important lesson about accountability and make him a more effective commissioner moving forward.
Would that outcome feel like a win to Big Ten parents and Fields? Hardly. But at the very least, they are influencing public perception and moving the needle towards their side a little bit for future battles. It’s hard not to sympathize with these athletes and their parents when they express their frustration and confusion with how the situation was handled.
When the discussion starts for how a spring season should look, maybe Warren is a little more incentivized to do right by the players. When reports emerged that there really hadn’t been any discussion of what a spring season would look like — so much so that Purdue coach Jeff Brohm developed a proposal just to get the ball rolling — I got the feeling that the B1G isn’t taking the idea of a spring season seriously just yet.
If Warren had a framework for a potential spring season laid out, players and fans would feel different. If he had shown them that there was a path forward and a conscious effort to try and do what they’ve worked so hard for and sacrificed for, there wouldn’t be an uprising among parents, players and coaches.
Maybe Warren will be more apt to consider a season that begins in January and gives draft-eligible players a realistic chance at playing, instead of kicking the can down the road.
The biggest issue in this saga is that players and parents want transparency, and frankly, they deserve at least that because they are the people directly affected by these decisions. Warren’s inexperience and lack of understanding of that dynamic is what has led to an embarrassing situation for the Big Ten. He bungled his Big Ten Network interview so badly that he would have done better by not doing it at all because it only led to more questions. He needs to answer questions like why a University of Michigan cardiologist would claim that the B1G used a flawed study in reaching a decision to postpone the fall season.
It’s in direct contrast to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who has been tweeting through this process and seems to understand the importance of keeping his voice in the conversation. Say what you will about former Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, but he was at least ready to spin his questionable decisions, like adding Maryland and Rutgers.
It’s not insignificant that Big Ten parents from various teams took the time to organize their thoughts and send them to the league (or in the case of Iowa, hand deliver to the Big Ten office in Chicago) because it reinforces to Warren that he is in a public position that demands public answers; he’s not behind the scenes anymore like he was with the Minnesota Vikings. He has never been a sports commissioner before and this is a very public reminder that someone in his position needs to be ready to explain why the Big Ten makes its decisions.
While each letter is a little different, they collectively raise some good points, like:
- What changed in the 6 days from the time the B1G released its schedule to when it abruptly canceled the fall season?
- Why is it safe for thousands of students to come together on campus, but it’s not safe to play football?
- Are these decisions based on science or liability? What is the science behind this?
It was unfair to the players that there wasn’t any direction with how to proceed in the immediate aftermath of the postponement, including teams practicing in the days leading up to the announcement when a decision had clearly already been made.
Warren’s approval rating is undeniably very low right now. What does that mean moving forward? Maybe this makes him realize that every decision is going to be scrutinized. Perhaps he didn’t realize that this is the type of impact and potential blowback he can expect.
Make no mistake, Warren is well aware of the public beating he has taken and continues to take. Judging by his framing of newspaper articles written about him in the background of his Big Ten Network interview, he is keeping up with public perception.
At the very least, I’m sure he can feel the passion radiating from the players and parents — even if he doesn’t agree with them.
So even though this uprising probably won’t result in a fall season, it’s a useful effort from Fields and Big Ten parents.