Barbour: Big Ten decision unlikely to be reversed, but she's unsure if vote actually taken

The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
Sandy Barbour

Despite the intention of the ACC, SEC and Big 12 to press on, criticism of the conference’s process and backlash from coaches, athletes and parents, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall sports, including football, isn’t likely to be reversed.

In a video conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, Barbour said the university’s athletic department enthusiastically has turned its attention to planning for fall sports to be played in the spring.

“The presidents and chancellors made their decision based on science, based on the information from medical experts and based on concerns and uncertainty in a number of different categories,” Barbour said. “I don’t see that changing, but I also appreciate the passion of our parents and our student athletes and I appreciate both where their hearts and their heads are.”

Was there a formal vote? Barbour said the decision to call off fall sports was made by Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren in consultation with university presidents and chancellors, not athletic departments, and therefore, she didn’t know if a formal vote was taken, let alone which way Penn State cast its ballot.

“Given the importance of this, most of these conversations took place with the presidents,” Barbour said. “They were going to be the decision makers. I think it’s fair to say Kevin’s attention was with them.”

Barbour did not indicate any difference of opinion between the Penn State president Eric Barron and the school’s athletic department.

“It is clear to me that Penn State and Eric Barron, both on our campus and as he took his thoughts to the Big Ten and in the various conversations they had, explored every option to play, every option that would have been acceptable from a health and safety standpoint,” Barbour said. “To say Dr. Barron fought for the ability for our student athletes to play this fall, I think that would be a correct assumption.”

Medical concerns: Barbour said the conference’s decision was made based on medical concerns, specifically the availability and consistency of testing and contact tracing and uncertainty about the long-term health effects of the coronavirus on young athletes, such as the possibility of covid-19 leading to myocarditis.

“Those things all added up,” Barbour said. “Any one of us can disagree with the decision itself, but we can’t disagree it was made with health and safety in mind.”

Spring football? Barbour said the framework for a spring football season could be announced as soon as a week from now. There are multiple issues that need to be ironed out.

On the most basic level, some degree of winterization would be required at Beaver Stadium, which generally does not host events between December and March.

“We have some challenges there with the infrastructure,” Barbour said.

Universities also would have to grapple with the issue of players opting out of a spring season, especially players who reasonably could be expected to be drafted by NFL teams in late April.

Perhaps most importantly, schools would have to deal with the ramifications of playing a season in a physical, contact sport in the spring followed by the regularly scheduled 2021 season a few months later.

That could require changes to the number and intensity of practices and perhaps the number of games played.

“Just like the decision around COVID, we’re going to rely on the science. We’re going to rely on our experts to tell us when something is too much,” Barbour said.

Two main difficulties: Barbour noted two difficulties that made the decision to postpone fall sports harder to make, and they’re the same issues that have been dogging politicians, administrators and public health officials all over the world since the pandemic began.

First is the divergence of expert opinions.

“For every issue here, you’re going to find people to both extremes and everything in the middle in terms of what they believe the answer is, and they all believe they’re right,” Barbour said.

Second is the delicate balance between safety and normalcy.

“I am a true believer that we have to find a balance in all of this about, yes, being safe, wearing masks, not gathering in big crowds, but at the same time, we do have to live our lives,” Barbour said. “I’m thrilled that we’re bringing students back to campus. This campus has a great plan, and the virus will decide whether it works or not.”