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What they’re saying about the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall sports

The Big Ten postponed its 2020 fall sports season Tuesday, becoming the first Power 5 conference to pull the plug on college football because of health and safety concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.

An hour later, the Pac-12 postponed all sports until 2021, meaning 40% of major college football teams have decided to punt on a fall season. The Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 Conference — which generate billions of dollars for their member schools — are still considering their plans.

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Here’s what columnists and analysts around the country had to say about the Big Ten’s decision:

The Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein: “This is the challenge of a lifetime for commissioner Kevin Warren, who has been on the job for less than eight months. Warren is so respected nationally, many view him as the next commissioner of the NFL, a job with an annual compensation (in normal times) of $40 million. What will Warren and the Big Ten presidents and chancellors do? Side with science, safety and prudence? Or align with coaches, fans, the vast majority of players and the President of the United States?”

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The Indianapolis Star’s Zach Osterman: “Rarely has the Big Ten, for so long boastful of its academic reputation, communal professionalism and lack of public infighting, seemed so out of step with itself. It’s up to Warren to get both hands firmly back on the wheel starting right now, because the conference’s plan to try and play its football season in the spring will require far more togetherness and joined-up thinking than have been on display in the past few days.”

The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman: “Virtually nothing changed about the state of the pandemic in the United States in between the Big Ten’s schedule release on Wednesday and the league’s announcement Tuesday that it’s postponing the season. But the conference’s abrupt shift from blinders-on enthusiasm to harsh realism seems like it was motivated by major change on a different front. College football’s decision-makers long plowed ahead with the premise that there would be a 2020 season because that was the solution favored by inertia. Colleges depend on the revenue generated by football to fund their entire athletic departments. The rationale seemed to be that playing the fall season would bring in enough money to salvage much of the college athletic system as we know it. But over time, it became clear that playing the fall season would require more substantive changes to the system than postponing it would.”

The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel: “Unfortunately, this cruel reality we’re in started to feel unavoidable somewhere around 4th of July, as case counts began spiking anew and outbreaks started popping up even on sparsely-populated college campuses. Coaches and players mounted a furious two-minute drive on social media this week in attempt to save their sport, but the officials had already signaled game over. No matter how many protocols the schools put in place, no matter how creatively they reworked their schedules, there remained too much “uncertainty,” as Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren put it, for higher-education institutions to accept the risks and liabilities of sanctioning a full-contact sport played by non-professional athletes at the height of a pandemic. Ultimately, they listened to their medical advisors — as they should.”

PennLive’s David Jones: “Sometimes, you need to win the press conference. And this afternoon, Kevin Warren lost big. He flunked his first major exam. Because of his mealy performance on the Big Ten Network, repeatedly stonewalling simple questions he could’ve handled in plainspoken response, the conference’s official cancellation of fall sports will be received by many as nervous and apprehensive rather than sensible and necessary. Rather than the brave thing to do, it will be perceived as cowardice. It’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it. And the Big Ten’s new commissioner came off like a politician rather than a statesman. Big difference. Huge difference in this particular case.”

USA Today’s Dan Wolken: “It is incredibly absurd, and yet perfectly appropriate for the way the COVID-19 pandemic has played out in America, that the fate of the entire college football season could really come down to believing one set of medical experts over another. University presidents in the Big Ten and the Pac-12 saw the trends, the data and the risks to young athletes of trying to play a season this fall and decided to fold up the tents Tuesday at least until the spring, following earlier decisions by the Mid American Conference and the Mountain West. Meanwhile, university presidents in the SEC, ACC and perhaps the Big 12 have looked at their own set of material from the experts and determined it’s worth pressing forward until something changes their mind. If that doesn’t symbolize the American conundrum at this delicate and polarized moment in history, I don’t know what does. And like everything else that has happened since March, we all deserve better.”

Detroit Free Press’ Shawn Windsor: “Welcome to the land of expediency, and to a time when our most romanticized sport now serves as a proxy for how we see the world. If you want to see football played, it says as much about your politics as it does your fandom. And for the better part of 24 hours Monday, that divide played out across the country. Everyone had an opinion. Nearly everyone had an agenda.”

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