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INDIANAPOLIS — The Big Ten is following a “decentralized decision-making process” to address COVID-19 issues heading into the fall athletic season, and will soon determine how outbreaks will affect competition.
Commissioner Kevin Warren said on Thursday that the league’s presidents and chancellors agreed last month that each institution would determine its policies with COVID-19. Several Big Ten schools require all students to be vaccinated before the start of the academic year, while others are not.
“Our schools are finalizing their proposed policies and procedures for the fall,” Warren said at Big Ten football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium. “We’ll get that information in early August, we’ll combine it, and then we’ll meet with our chancellors and presidents and other key voters to determine how we’re handling the fall. One of the things I did learn last year is that we working as methodically as possible, so that we bring people together.”
Other leagues such as the SEC do not plan to reschedule matches for COVID-19 outbreaks and may forfeit teams if they are unable to compete on certain dates.
The 2020 Big Ten initially canceled its fall football season, before coming back under very strict COVID-19 protocols for players who test positive. Several key games were not played, including Ohio State-Michigan, and Ohio State advanced to the Big Ten Championship, despite only playing five games in the regular season.
The Big Ten will soon announce the hiring of a chief medical officer for the season. dr. Ohio State team physician Jim Borchers played an integral role in the Big Ten’s return to play medical policy after its initial cancellation in 2020.
Warren, who gave his first media address as competition commissioner after last year’s event was cancelled, described 2020 as a challenging year, but one he is grateful for as it helped him build and strengthen relationships throughout the conference. He said that although there were disagreements within the competition, he would still have made decisions with the health of athletes at the forefront.
“If we put them at the epicenter of our decisions, we’ll be fine,” Warren said. “And that’s what we did at the Big Ten last year. Maybe the communication wasn’t as clean and perfect as it could have been at times.”
Minnesota coach PJ Fleck, who was Warren’s neighbor when Warren worked for the Minnesota Vikings, called the commissioner “an incredible communicator.”
“He’s got a huge heart, he’s a really good person and he’s our leader,” Fleck told ESPN.
Asked about Texas and Oklahoma potentially looking to exit the Big 12 for the SEC, Warren said the Big Ten has had internal discussions about issues such as reshuffling, noting that the league is in the intelligence-gathering stage. The Big Ten in 2010 kicked off the last major round of college reshuffles, which included adding Nebraska as a member.
Warren also announced Thursday that former Wisconsin coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez will join the Big Ten as a special football advisor. Alvarez coached Wisconsin from 1990 to 2005, won three league titles, and served as the school’s athletic director from 2004 until his retirement on June 30.
Warren has known Alvarez since Warren’s time as a law student at Notre Dame, when Alvarez was Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator.
“I trust Barry Alvarez implicitly,” Warren said. “He means everything to this conference. We are so grateful that he agreed to join the conference office.”
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