I’m gonna be honest with you guys: I’m really upset.
On Tuesday, the Big Ten announced they would be cancelling their 2020 fall football season, marking the end of Ohio State’s chances to take the field this year. The writing was on the wall since rumors began swirling this past weekend, and while the timing of the decision was a bit surprising given the nearly universal backlash from players, coaches, parents and fans, it is a move that was not entirely shocking.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren in a press release. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.
Now, I'm not here to debate whether or not the Big Ten made the right decision today, as I ultimately believe that we were likely headed down this road at one point or another. However, what I am here to do is question the timing of this decision, and complain — something I'm one to do — about the optics and execution of the decision making within the conference, but also way beyond.
My first gripe begins with the conference’s decision to release a 2020 football schedule on Aug. 5 — just six days ago. Upon its release, the B1G acknowledged that there was still work to be done in terms of controlling the COVID-19 virus, but that this new schedule was designed with maximized flexibility in mind. Included in these plans were universal bye weeks that would allow games to be moved around if needed, the ability to move the Big Ten Championship game to as late as Dec. 19, and even the flexibility to easily delay the beginning the of season until Sept. 26.
Even with all these added precautions in mind should things go south in terms of outbreaks — which to my knowledge, did not occur over the weekend — the Big Ten still decided to cancel the season on Tuesday. Why go through the added trouble of designing a schedule with all of these machinations and contingency plans if you never intended to give it a shot? If you were so confident in playing this year that you released a schedule a few days ago, what changed to lead you to cancel less than a full week later?
Can you imagine telling people it was "abundantly clear" a season needed to be postponed 6 days after releasing a schedule?— Josh Pate (@LateKickJosh) August 11, 2020
Now, let me say this. The leadership issue in college football does not seem to be the case at Ohio State. Throughout this whole process, all of the important parties in charge — be it Ryan Day, athletic director Gene Smith or university president-elect Kristina Johnson — were unified in their fight to try and save the 2020 season. When Day appeared on ESPN on Monday night to discuss everything going on, he made it clear that there had been dialogue from top to bottom throughout everything going on.
According to Smith, Ohio State was in favor of postponing the season to late September rather than a full cancellation of the fall season. Even Johnson, who isn’t technically even the president of Ohio State until the end of August, tried to fight for her athletes — likely ones she hasn't even yet been able to meet — and has continued advocating for their health and safety as well as making sure their scholarships are honored. In terms of what we know from the outside of these discussions, it is by no means the fault of anyone in charge in Columbus that they will not be playing college football this season.
If you want to blame them for not standing on top of the virtual Zoom table and demanding football be played, that is another story. Did Ohio State throw its weight around as the most important member of the conference? Probably not to its fullest extent. But at the very least, you can’t say they weren’t on the side of trying to move forward with a season. All in all, they got overruled.
Gene Smith on Ohio State's position: "President-elect Johnson and I were totally aligned in our efforts to delay the start of the season rather than postpone. I am so grateful to her for all her efforts in support of our student-athletes and a traditional fall season." pic.twitter.com/2nt4ilTII4— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) August 11, 2020
Where we do run into this blatant issue of poor leadership and zero clarity is with the Big Ten and the NCAA as a whole. Even in the wake of a decision with tremendous ramifications for both the conference and the landscape of college football as a whole, newly appointed commissioner Kevin Warren has no answers for some of the most important remaining questions.
Talked to one staff member about the guidance Ohio State got from the Big Ten on what happens next: “None.”— Austin Ward (@AWardSports) August 11, 2020
What happens now to all the players on campus? Why did you let the kids continue to practice if this was a decision you seemed ready to make since Sunday? What about scholarship numbers moving forward? What about transfer eligibility? If this decision is really in the interest of player safety, how can you justify making unpaid college kids play two seasons in 2021 if you intend to play in the spring?
These are all questions the Big Ten seems woefully unprepared to answer. The conference has had months to come up with a plan for how the fall would look, and it appeared they had done just that when they cancelled the non-conference scheduled and instituted this new flexible 10-game plan. Instead, now we have a decision that appears rushed through in a matter of hours with no actual thoughts or guidelines as to what happens next.
You would figure the overseeing organization of collegiate athletics would have something to say on the matter — but you would be wrong. NCAA President Mark Emmert makes nearly $4 million to sit on his ass and not do a damn thing outside of making sure the athletes that are producing a billion-dollar product don't see a dime in compensation. If it isn’t about protecting the NCAA’s precious ‘amateurism’ racket, Emmert wants nothing to do with it. He has been radio silent throughout this whole ordeal, and has shown us time and time again that the association is worthless and lacks any real basis for existing at all.
As much as I hate to agree with Paul Finebaum, he is absolutely right:
Paul Finebaum says Mark Emmert is a “complete, abject failure at leadership,” compares him to a groundhog.https://t.co/oPkJKlWFIY— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) July 19, 2020
As we travel to the very top of the chain of command, we bring us to our biggest culprit in terms of weak leadership: the United States government. Now, I'm not going to bog you down with any rash political statements here, but the whole reason we are even talking about cancelling college football in the first place is because of this country’s complete lack of unified effort to control this pandemic.
A vast majority of developed nations around the world either have or are well on their way to nipping this thing in the bud. We could have taken shut downs more seriously. We could have listened to the scientists when they warned us what would happen if we didn’t take steps to prevent further outbreaks. But no, instead we chose to turn a virus into a partisan entity and made wearing masks — the easiest possible thing literally anyone could do to improve the lives of their fellow Americans — into a culture war.
Those upset at the Big Ten, direct your outrage at the leaders who have refused to do what’s needed to get COVID under control. We had the time and we squandered it.— Nancy Armour (@nrarmour) August 11, 2020
As a result of all of these failures of leadership from top to bottom, we now sit here mourning the loss of Ohio State’s 2020 football season. It is sad to think about how all of the athletes within the Big Ten must feel after working their asses off all offseason, just to have the rug ripped out from under them a mere few weeks before they were supposed to compete. This is no more true than at Ohio State, where they lose more from this cancellation than any other program in the country.
Justin Fields — the Heisman frontrunner and one of the greatest players the Buckeyes have ever seen — is not coming back. Football probably isn’t going to be played in the spring, and even if it is, he has an NFL Draft to prepare for. Shaun Wade — who chose to return to OSU to try and win a national title — is gone too. With them leaves fellow incredibly talented NFL prospects in Baron Browning, Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers, Thayer Munford, and possibly Chris Olave, among others. The Buckeyes would have been one of the best teams in college football in 2020 and likely the favorite to win the National Championship, and now that opportunity is no longer.
Sure, Clemson will be losing guys like Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, but it doesn’t nearly amount to the talent exodus that will be coming out of Columbus. Plus, those guys already got to win a few in recent years. Ohio State has been one of the top dogs in college football for quite some time, but they haven’t won a title since 2014. This year was likely their greatest opportunity to do so, and now all of the guys who were ready to lead that charge this season will be moving on.
Plus, we don't even really know the status moving forward of guys like Jonathon Cooper, Justin Hilliard or Trey Sermon, who came into this season with one final year of eligibility — another massive question the Big Ten will have to answer very soon.
Sitting here on Aug. 11, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Maybe not us specifically, as I'm sure all of our lovely readers here at LGHL have been strictly adhering to mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines, but as a general population. Agree with the Big Ten’s decision or not, there were clear steps we could have taken as a country to avoid getting to this point. Our leaders at all levels could have and should have done more to plan ahead and to prevent this, and now we all must suffer the consequences.
It's honestly too bad because this is the best Ohio State team I've seen in my career.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 11, 2020
RIP to your 2020 National Champions: The Ohio State Buckeyes.