Big Ten boss Kevin Warren gets athlete input as he ponders canceling 2020 football season

The Chicago Tribune (TNS)
Kevin Warren

CHICAGO – Pac-12 football players penned an essay in The Players’ Tribune under the headline “#WeAreUnited” to get the attention of Commissioner Larry Scott. They are threatening a boycott if their demands – including revenue sharing – are not met.

Big Ten athletes, meanwhile, recently have been getting a more direct line to the top of the conference.

Sources say Commissioner Kevin Warren has attempted to meet with two student-athletes from each Big Ten school by video conference – one football player, one from a different sport. He completed some calls Monday and others Tuesday.

Warren clearly wants to get the pulse of players before deciding whether to move forward or pull the plug on the 2020 season.

That also explains why the Big Ten, which initially planned to release its football schedule Tuesday, will wait at least another day before making an announcement.

And that’s not all.

Sources say that after Warren learned Monday of the COVID-19 outbreak at Rutgers – reported that 28 football players plus “multiple team staffers” have been infected, forcing the team into isolation until Saturday – he reconsidered the conference’s next step. Canceling the fall 2020 Big Ten football season now appears to be a real possibility.

Alarming developments: These developments are among those adding to the exponentially growing concern regarding a 2020 season:

►A second Major League Baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, suffered a COVID-19 outbreak, sounding alarms regarding sports leagues that operate outside a bubble.

►A sixth Big Ten football program paused workouts, with Northwestern joining Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana and Rutgers.

►NU’s stoppage was caused by a single positive COVID-19 test, but contact tracing prompted a quarantine of more than two dozen players. The school hopes to resume workouts Wednesday.

►The Rutgers case is more problematic because of the soaring number of cases.

Mother gets attention of Big Ten: The mother of an Indiana football player got the Big Ten’s attention Monday with a Facebook post. Debbie Rucker cautioned that her son Brady Feeney, a freshman offensive lineman, ended up in the emergency room with breathing issues after being infected with the coronavirus.

“After 14 days of hell battling the horrible virus … now we are dealing with possible heart issues!” she wrote. “Bottom line, even if your son’s schools do everything right to protect them, they CAN’T PROTECT THEM!!”

Some top college football players are starting to opt out. Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley was the first big name to say no, and star Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman announced his withdrawal Tuesday morning. Bateman, a likely first-round draft pick who was second in the Big Ten with 1,219 receiving yards last season, called it the “hardest decision” of his life.

The financial impact: The Big Ten faces its own hard decision because of finances. Canceling football would cause Big Ten schools to lose at least $50 million to $60 million apiece in revenue. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said the school’s loss could be greater than $100 million.

“We’ve got to feel comfortable that our athletes will be safe before we move forward,” Alvarez told the Wisconsin State Journal on July 21. “I want to be able to look (parents) in the eye and say, yeah, I feel comfortable that they’ll be safe.”

Warren has emphasized student-athlete welfare since the day in June 2019 he accepted the job to succeed Jim Delany. His son, Powers, plays football for Mississippi State.

No easy road: Although Warren has been unreachable since announcing a conference-only schedule July 9, declining to reply to text messages, he said this in January during a campus tour at Indiana regarding name, image and likeness rights: “We have to ask ourselves from an honest standpoint, the decisions we make, what will be in the best interests for our student-athletes? So many times in life and community and society, people think money solves all issues … just pay the people some money, and it will make it go away. I don’t want to take that easy road.”

In this case, it seems, there is no easy road.