Michigan fans know his name well, Tom Mars. The attorney who helped quarterback Shea Patterson gain eligibility for the 2018 season after transferring from Ole Miss.
Mars is making headlines again, due to how the NCAA and Big Ten are handling certain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Big Ten parents from Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, and other programs writing letters to commissioner Kevin Warren, it’s clear the majority of parents want answers from the conference as to why they postponed the fall 2020 sports season.
Since the Big Ten announced the postponement of the season on August 11, parents feel they haven’t received enough information from Warren to accept his rationale. Enter Tom Mars.
“I’m not sure the Big Ten knows this but, one way or the other, the players and the parents are going to get their hands on at least most of the information that was available to the Big Ten when they voted on this decision. If they did vote. Maybe they didn’t,” Mars said on Sirius XM. “And people may wonder ‘How are they going to do that?’ It’s not only simple, it’s the next step in the process. And I’m actually on the verge of coordinating a massive request for emails, text messages, presentations and financial analysis from all member institutions of the B1G, and they’ll be required to produce those under the Freedom of Information statutes.”
While it’s anyone’s guess whether there will actually be a fall football season, Mars crafted a document entitled “Action Plan to Mitigate Concerns and Legal Risks of Playing Fall 2020 Football”, which in part calls for the NCAA lifting their early August ban of liability waivers. The plan calls for a school to still be potentially liable if there’s negligence and they fail to provide reasonable care, which is a definite safe-guard for players. Further, his plan would preserve the rights of student-athletes who choose not to execute a waiver.
“The issue here is all about freedom of choice,” Mars told Sportico. “If a student-athlete can enlist in the military without getting approval from the NCAA, with the risk of death or serious injury being so obvious, why shouldn’t a student-athlete be free to sign a liability waiver and accept the risks of virus-related health problems?”
Freedom of choice aside, virus-related health problems are increasing on college campuses. In the first week since classes began, the University of North Carolina had 130 positive cases and will no longer hold in-person classes on campus. The University of Notre Dame, a relatively small campus, went from 58 positive cases on Monday to 147 on Tuesday. And at the time of publishing, Michigan State announced they’ll be going online only this fall. In short, it’s likely we’ll continue to see covid cases rise across the country on college campuses, and in turn these institutions will opt for virtual learning. It’s fair to wonder whether the average college student is safer from coronavirus, or student-athletes who have access to adequate testing and medical professionals are safer.
“Who is safer on campus right now—student-athletes in a relatively controlled environment or the students in frats and sororities in these photos we’ve all seen, who think it’s not cool to wear a mask and social distance?,” Mars asked. He acknowledges that it won’t matter what any commissioner decided to do about college football if campuses shut down due to widespread outbreaks, but he’s still trying to craft a path forward for a fall season because it’s what the majority of players and parents want.
As we sit here on August 18, Mars is just getting started with his goal of getting the Big Ten and Kevin Warren to release pertinent information that will bring an end any speculation players and parents have about why the season was postponed. The longer this process drags on, though, Mars feels wouldn’t be in the best interest of Warren or the conference. “Why wouldn’t the commissioner proactively release that information and explain it and put it in context,” Mars said. “In my view, the longer Kevin Warren resists calls for transparency the more likely it is that he’s gonna have a very short tenure as commissioner.”