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Podcast transcript: Why the Big Ten decided last week was the right time to shut down fall sports

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A small sampling from our chat with The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach.

Michigan v Maryland Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

One of the major questions that Big Ten and Michigan Wolverines fans have had about the cancelation of fall sports has to do with the timeline and the deciding factor in pulling the plug when the conference did.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of this — or at least receive a bit of clarity — we caught up national college football writer (and Michigan Daily alumna) Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic this week to go inside the Big Ten’s decision. For the full chat you’ll have to listen to the podcast, but below is an excerpt from our conversation.

Here is what Auerbach said about the Big Ten’s decision and the frustrations surrounding it:

“The communication and messaging have been really the main problems with all this. Because I think people understand like the decision itself, right? We’re in the middle of a pandemic and there are outbreaks in a lot of places. There’s pressure on healthcare systems. The the lack of communication about what changed. Kevin Warren, the new Big Ten Commissioner, I think he tried really hard when they put the schedule out to be as clear as possible that he was ready and willing to shut it down when their medical advisors told them it wasn’t safe to move forward. He did say that many times in my conversations with him. He said that publicly when they put schedule out, and I think that there were always going to be certain steps like you do go through the process of building a schedule in case you’re able to play. But I think like there’s a difference between him saying those things and mentally viewing it as like day-to-day and evaluating the information you get, and communicating that publicly to everyone else who sees the schedule and is like, ‘okay, so there’s some optimism. There’s some momentum for a fall season.’ And you’re explaining how there’s so much flexibility and you could push back to start. So I think that’s where a lot of the frustration comes from is building a schedule, coming up with medical protocols, and then not trying them out at all, like not using the flexibility in the schedule.”

“But ultimately I thought (Penn State AD Sandy Barbour) said a lot of interesting things on her Zoom on Monday, but one that I think was true is it was a combination of all the things that always concerned them that ultimately made this decision right when you’re talking about testing capabilities, turnaround times, consistency across the board, high impact sports being... this was still going to be a sport where you have people breathing and sweating on top of each other for extended periods of time, in practices that would require large groups of people in close proximity, blocking and tackling and all of those things, so we’re always going to be there. There just becomes a point where like, if we decided we were planning this, you know, let’s say 1.000 people were going to be involved in an activity, and it was supposed to take place three months from now, even if we’re not sure we’re going to be able to do it, we’re still going to end up getting further down a planning process before we eventually say we say we tried.

“So it’s almost like that type of question where if you kind of were leaning this way, could you have done it earlier? Or do you do should you give it longer? Should you push back the start of the season? Give it a few more weeks. I mean, we’ve already seen the return to campus stuff. It’s already blowing up. But the schools that have only been back in class for one week, North Carolina already went online only after one week. So there’s going to be more data points. So those are the things that the leaves that are waiting to start, we’re waiting to see how the regular students returned to campus. Well, these schools are coming and saying that they didn’t even need to get to that point. They didn’t need that data point. But I understand it’s jarring. It’s frustrating. The messaging has been really bad. It was clearly not as coordinated and unanimous and on the same page as a Pac-12 decision and they did not put out a medical report like the Pac-12 did. (Pac-12 commissioner) Larry Scott answered questions alongside a medical expert (and) alongside a university president, like the that was just a lot better in the Pac-12. So I absolutely understand the frustration. Ultimately, it’s grounded in a lot of very important things, including obviously long-term health issues like heart issues that are really serious. But because the messaging and communication have been so messy, it has kind of underscored the whole point about this, that it was for health and safety reason.”

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