Kevin Warren says Big Ten could operate independently from other conferences in return to sports

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren says the next “six to eight weeks” will be “paramount” in determining whether or not college football can be played as scheduled in the fall. 

In an interview with Big Ten Network, Warren said he does not want to make “flippant” comments about the feasibility of fall sports returning amid the coronavirus pandemic, but said the coming weeks will be pivotal in the conference’s ability to make “tangible decisions.”

“There are some states opening up, and we’ll be watching closely,” Warren said. “The COVID-19 incidents, are they spiking? Are they stable? Are they going down?”

Last week, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in multiple radio interviews that there is “room for different conferences to make different decisions,” a hint that the SEC could potentially field its own 2020 season separate from other conferences. 

Warren did not seem to rule that out from the Big Ten’s perspective, either. 

“[Power Five commissioners] had a call this morning and I think what I said is that we will always be the Big Ten. And the Big Ten is the Big Ten for a certain reason. Which means we will always — to the best of our abilities — do what we feel is the right thing to do,” Warren said.  

“Sometimes that may mean that we’re with a group. Sometimes that may mean that we do things from an independent standpoint. But I will always say that my goal is to make sure that we feel comfortable that we do the right thing and that we remember that we have a responsibility with our brand, with our universities.”

Warren: Campuses must be safe before sports can resume

Warren said he has been having daily calls with athletic directors and other Power Five conference commissioners, as well as check-ins with leaders from professional leagues as they map out the safest way to resume competition.

As other leaders in college athletics have noted, Warren said the safety of campus goes hand-in-hand with the ability to hold massive events like college football games. Warren also was clear that the safety of student-athletes is “at the center” of all of the Big Ten’s decisions. 

“The thing that we have that the professional sports leagues don’t have is we have a responsibility to make sure that our campuses are safe. Before we can even talk about the appropriate time for return to play, we need to discuss when is the appropriate time to have our students, our professors, go back on campus,” Warren said. 

“This is something that’s a fluid situation. I’m working on it every day of the week. As we get into the early part of June, we’ll be able to make tangible decisions.”

Whatever decision is ultimately made with respect to the 2020 season, Warren knows it is one of immense importance. 

“This will be a time in history that we will look back on to see how we handled it,” Warren said. “I’m very conscious and cognizant that the decisions that we make today will impact the landscape of college sports for the next 10, 15, 25 years.”

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren addresses the media in Indianapolis on March 12, 2020 after it was announced that the remainder of the Big Ten Conference men's basketball tournament was canceled. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Suspension of team activities extended

On Monday morning, the Big Ten announced that it has extended its suspension of all organized team activities through June 1. At that point, the situation will be re-evaluated. 

Last week, University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld pointed to June 1 as a target date for Iowa sports teams to begin practicing again. 

The conference previously canceled all competition through the end of the academic year, including spring sports with schedules that extend beyond the academic year. A moratorium on recruiting “for the foreseeable future” was also previously announced. 

The NCAA last week rolled out a public plan for the resumption of sports. The plan includes nine steps and three phases and is based on federal guidelines for easing social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. It made clear that a resumption of sports would be centered around the return of students to campus.

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