Opinion: What the Big Ten did to their athletes is shameful

by Peter Heck · Aug 20th, 2020 8:29 pm
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Last Updated Oct 14th, 2020 at 2:47 pm

Let me be clear in saying that I don't think for a second that Big Ten officials will swallow their pride, admit they made a jarringly selfish decision that negatively impacts most everyone but themselves, and reinstate the 2020 college football season. Humility is often in short supply in administration buildings.

But that doesn't change the fact that each of the conference's university presidents who voted abruptly to suspend the season should be ashamed of themselves – if not for their motivation (which admittedly may have been pure), for their short-sighted execution. Consider everything you've ever witnessed or learned about good leadership and realize that these presidents and Commissioner Kevin Warren exhibited none of it.

First, to say that pulling the plug was premature is a monumental understatement. The case surge in the south is now mirroring the same precipitous decline that has occurred in the northeast. That would seem to indicate the possibility of a herd immunity factor taking form. Regardless, the states that are home to the vast majority of Big Ten schools are not suffering from high rates of infection, hospitalization, or death. This is particularly true for college-aged young people.

Second, the stated premise of protecting the safety and well-being of student athletes is a farce. It has been from the start. There is no logical or reasonable answer any of the university presidents can offer as to how it could possibly be safer for these athletes to be denied the watchful care of experienced trainers and team doctors in exchange for dorm life and frat parties and end up less at risk. No one believes that, and no one believes that these highly educated university presidents or conference officials believe that either. The best place for the athletes to be in order to avoid exposure and infection is in their structured team environment.

Third, if the Big Ten really had some kind of groundbreaking medical research that told them the unforeseen risks to holding an active season that no one else has yet seen, why will they not share it? Why would other conferences not be privy to the same information? Granted, the Big Ten has cited one myocarditis study that spooked them. If that was the determining factor for these university presidents, do you suppose they've heard the news that the study was deeply flawed in both methodology and conclusion?

It's easy to say, "this is just about sports and games, so who cares?" But it's not.

Last year at this time, an unproven former back-up quarterback who never got to show his talent at Ohio State University was anticipating the chance to prove his worth in the bayou of Louisiana. After completing a national championship season that many college football experts believe to be the single greatest individual performance in the history of the game, Joe Burrow is now on top of the world.

The number one pick in the NFL draft, Burrow's future is now as bright and secure as it could be for a young man of 23 years. Who knows how many Joe Burrows are sitting at Big Ten schools that will never have the same opportunity?

That's the precise message being raised by angry parents and furious athletes through multiple petitions that have been sent to Commissioner Warren, whose own son will be getting his Joe Burrow opportunity, since he plays for a school in the SEC. One of those petitions, started by Heisman Trophy favorite Justin Fields, had nearly a quarter of a million signatures in 24 hours.

The Big Ten's response has been as cowardly as you might expect:

Am I the only one who thinks that after cancelling the dreams of the very men and women who bring revenue and prestige to their school, not consulting them, involving them, or even explaining to them the reasons, we're long past the time where "no comment" can be seen as an acceptable response?

This isn't personal for me – my team is playing in the ACC this year, I don't know anyone personally who was planning to play in the Big Ten in 2020, and for the most part I loathe all the teams that are members of the conference.

But I hate injustice. And what Big Ten officials have done to their student-athletes, even as COVID cases drop in quantity and severity, is the very definition of that word.

Do I expect them to make it right? Not at all.

Do I think they should be shamed for it? Absolutely.

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