Skip to main content

Big Ten says there was 11-3 vote, which conflicts with what some presidents say


Tony Paul   | The Detroit News

The Big Ten's presidents and chancellors voted 11-3 to postpone the fall sports season, including football, according to a brief by the conference filed Monday in response to a lawsuit brought by eight Nebraska football players.

The Big Ten's brief doesn't say who voted no, though multiple national reports have indicted the three were Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio State.

That the Big Ten is saying in court, with the brief filed in Lancaster County District Court in Nebraska, that there was an actual vote is in contrast to public comments by some presidents.

"We didn't vote, per se," Minnesota president Joan Gabel told reporters shortly after the Big Ten's announcement. "It's a deliberated process where we came to a decision together."

Michigan State president Samuel L. Stanley also declined to describe the decision-making process as a traditional vote.

“I would say in my mind it was more of a consensus than a vote," he said. "Bottom line is, we are all united in what we are doing now together with this effort."

The Big Ten announced the postponement of college football Aug. 10, becoming the first Power Five conference to do so, and following the Mid-American Conference among FBS schools.

More: Big Ten: Presidents' vote to postpone football overwhelming; won't be revisited

The Pac-12 shortly followed the Big Ten's move, and hasn't caught nearly the flak the Big Ten has, for a couple reasons. One, the Big Ten has a much more captive audience. And two, the Pac-12, in announcing its decision, also released a 12-page report explaining why the decision was made, complete with data from medical professionals.

The other three Power Five conferences — the SEC, Big 12 and ACC — have vowed to play their seasons in the fall, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

More: Big Ten coaches, ADs discussing 'a lot of ideas' about possible start of football season

Since the Big Ten announced its decision, citing continued counsel from its medical experts as well as logistical complications such as testing, the conference has received significant pushback from players, parents and even some league officials. Even Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, shortly after the Big Ten's announcement, issued a statement suggesting he was against the decision.

"We have shown over the weeks since returning to campus that we could meet the challenge and provide our student-athletes the opportunity of a fall football season," Harbaugh said in his statement.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith issued a similar statement, reading in part: "Ohio State University is confident that we have the safety protocols and rigorous safeguards in place for our student-athletes to practice and return to competition immediately."

The parents of several Big Ten schools, including Michigan, have sent letters to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren requesting the decision be overturned. On Aug. 21, parents held a protest at Big Ten headquarters outside Chicago, though protesters (about 25) were outnumbered by media members.

There have been petitions spearheaded by players, including Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, whose #WeWantToPlay petition has drawn more than 300,000 signatures.

Warren has said the Big Ten won't reconsider the decision, even as other Power Five conferences near the start of their seasons — and even as most Big Ten schools are claiming they could lose as much as $100 million in revenue, mostly through tickets and television contracts, without fall football. Michigan's athletic department has projected a budget deficit of more than $26 million. At Michigan State, where football, at $80 million, accounts for nearly 60% of all athletic-department revenues, sports cuts are a possibility, athletic director Bill Beekman has said.

Iowa recently became the first Big Ten school to cut sports amid the pandemic, announcing the elimination of men's and women's swimming and diving, men's gymnastics and men's tennis.

The Big Ten still plans to play football in the spring, though specifics of what that would look like are completely up in the air.

More: Critics wonder whether Big Ten actually conducted vote to cancel football season

“The milk has been spilled, and it can’t go back in the carton,” Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos told the Omaha World Herald. “There won’t be fall football. Now what can we do? When can we play? How many games? Who do we play? Where do we play? That’s occupying all of our time.”

The entire sports world has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments in the spring. The NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the PGA Tour and other pro golf tours, NASCAR and IndyCar, and the WNBA have returned to action, with the NFL planning to start in two weeks.

Meanwhile, what emerged amid the Big Ten discussions was an apparent power struggle between the league's presidents and athletic directors. ADs reportedly fought to play the season; most presidents balked, citing student safety, even as many schools were preparing to welcome students back to campus for the fall. Some of those universities, including Michigan State, have gone back to remote learning; Michigan is offering both remote and in-person class options.

The Big Ten needs a 60% vote to authorize decisions; with 11 yays, it got 79%.

“Ultimately, that was always our decision to make,” Stanley said. “That is the fundamental tenet of the Big Ten … that the presidents and chancellors make these kind of decisions. There was input from a whole variety of people into this decision. But ultimately, it is always going to be our decision to make.”

Other fall sports affected include men's and women's cross country, field hockey, men's and women's soccer, and women's volleyball.

The Nebraska lawsuit was filed by football players Garrett Snodgrass, Garrett Nelson, Ethan Piper, Noa Pola-Gates, Alante Brown, Jackson Hannah and Brant and Brig Banks.

The Big Ten said in a statement Monday, following the filing of the brief in district court: "The Big Ten Conference continues to share the disappointment that student-athletes and families are feeling. The Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force will continue to be transparent as it actively considers options to get back to competition when it is safe to play."

Over the last week, The Detroit News reached out to every Big Ten athletic director and president or chancellor. More than half responded, all declining to comment beyond their original statements. The rest didn't respond. Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel and president Mark Schlissel haven't met with reporters since the Big Ten announced its decision.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984