The decision not to play Big Ten football this fall is a colossal comedy of errors, and the joke’s on you…unless you’re an Iowa or Nebraska supporter, because their school presidents were alone in summoning the courage to vote to allow players to compete this fall.
Columbus – You can obtain a refund on those Ohio State football tickets you purchased and no longer need, but there’s no reclaiming the windfall wasted on failed leadership over the years in Columbus and other Big Ten outposts.
That’s glaringly obvious in the botched handling of the conference’s football plans for 2020.
Turns out, all the smart people who make seven figures or more collaborated on north of 100 Zoom calls during the summer and hatched a plan to rush the league’s football schedule to market with about 30 minutes advance notice on Wednesday morning.
Then, Sunday night, before the teams’ first padded practice, despite no widespread additional outbreak of COVID-19, the schools’ 14 presidents reportedly voted, 12-2, to cancel the season.
Multiple reports say the official announcement will come Tuesday, which would mean the dozen high-minded folks who can’t see a prudent path to playing a football season amid a pandemic because of player safety thought nothing of sending those same players out on the field Monday to prepare for a season that had already been effectively cancelled.
After all, no one ever gets hurt in a non-contact practice, right?
This is a colossal comedy of errors and the joke’s on you unless you’re an Iowa or Nebraska supporter, because their school presidents were alone in summoning the courage to come out from under their oak desks and vote to allow players to compete this fall.
Trouble is, the presidential conference call that apparently killed the season came a few hours before a well-coordinated social media campaign by players from all the major conferences stating the revolutionary idea that they actually want to play this fall.
These days, nothing good ever happens without a well-coordinated social media campaign.
So just in case the Faculty Club didn’t take them seriously, players like OSU’s Justin Fields and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence illustrated their sincerity by augmenting their Tweets with the hashtag, “I want to play.”
Hell hath no fury like a hashtag unleashed.
Whether the players’ sentiment, or letters from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh or Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, will apply sufficient pressure to move a super-majority of Big Ten presidents off their cancellation plans is unknown.
The reason why it has a chance is the lack of leadership already displayed makes believable the possibility that presidents genuinely thought players were as scared of contracting the coronavirus as they are.
But guess what? They’re not!
The players actually believe they’re safer amid hovering team medical experts monitoring them like never before, providing sanitized clothes to wear and food to eat so no outside cooties make it into the practice facility.
Their push-back against cancellation overreach has a small chance of succeeding if only because the one thing Big Ten presidents prize above their fat salary and academic bona fides is their relative anonymity.
Oh, sure, their names are well known, but the perfect tenure of any school president is only threatened, never enhanced, by remaining out of the athletic spotlight.
Gordon Gee was Ohio State’s president twice for a cumulative 13 years. That’s adequate time to green-light an array of stately architectural designs and oversee a host of important research, but ask your garden-variety Ohio citizen what they remember most about Gee and the response will almost certainly be sports-related.
Gee is the guy who termed a 13-13 tie against Michigan, “our greatest win ever.”
He’s also the man who said of Jim Tressel mid-tattoo scandal: “I just hope the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
And Gee ran out of rope when he prefaced a harrumph about Notre Dame football, “those damn Catholics.”
Such treatment of the poo-bah in the corner office is no anomaly at Ohio State, where:
- Ed Jennings will always be known chiefly for firing Earle Bruce the Monday of Michigan week.
- Karen Holbrook will never outrun the crusade she embarked upon against excessive drinking at tailgate parties.
- And Michael Drake will forever be the guy who suspended Urban Meyer for three games.
So welcome to the hot seat, Dr. Kristen M. Johnson.
She isn’t supposed to officially take command of campus until Aug. 24, but already faces a fundraising crisis none of her predecessors dealt with should donor’s wallets run dry without football to open the faucet.
Johnson won’t be able to duck responsibility for OSU’s apparent no vote to play football this fall even if she wasn’t consulted on that decision.
After all, you may not have lit the sack of cow manure smoldering on your porch, but it’s still yours to extinguish before the stench can abate.
Maybe Johnson will show some leadership her Big Ten colleagues have not. Perhaps she’ll cast a believable vision, articulate it with supportive data and either convince the fan base cancellation is prudent or equip and empower OSU’s medical staff with the resources needed to keep players safe amid competition.
Doing the latter will require conviction amid a stampede to safer ground where there’s no risk of blame or litigation, but also no reward for courage.
Bruce Hooley is a former sports editor of the Troy Daily News. He hosts the We Tackle Life sports/faith podcast with College Football Hall of Famer and Fox NFL analyst Chris Spielman. The podcast is available on iTunes and most other platforms Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.