Frustrated parents of football players at Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State are speaking out against the Big Ten's decision to postpone the football season to the spring, questioning the process and the conference leadership, and are asking the league for further consideration and input.
Iowa parents on Friday hand-delivered a letter to the conference headquarters in Chicago, requesting a meeting with commissioner Kevin Warren to ask questions "and get direct answers and to have a say in the decision-making process."
Ohio State and Penn State parents also shared letters demanding answers from Warren on Saturday.
In their letter, the Iowa parents asked the Big Ten what changed within the six days when the conference announced its schedule, and on Tuesday when it became the first Power 5 conference to push its fall sports to the spring if possible. The Iowa parents asked that the Big Ten respond no later than Wednesday.
"The Big Ten had months to develop a strategic plan but instead chose to leave it up to each individual school creating confusion, inconsistency and no plan of action," the letter stated. "There is time to fix the wrongdoings and come out as leaders. We strongly encourage the Big Ten to reconsider playing the fall college football season, develop a plan of meaningful action and letting these young adults be included in the decision-making process."
It's a process that ends with the university presidents, as they have the final say in each conference as to whether schools can proceed with fall sports amid the coronavirus pandemic. Warren did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ESPN but has said repeatedly the decision was made based on the advice of the league's medical experts and in the best interests of the student-athletes' health and wellness.
"You look at the overall numbers during this global pandemic, as far as caseloads, they have not decreased; they have gone up. Trends have not improved; they've become worse," Warren had previously told ESPN. "You add that up and you're getting ready to go into more formal practice, it's just a level of not only concerns but unknown risks. When you're dealing with the health of human beings, it's serious."
Multiple Ohio State parents reached out to ESPN on Friday, expressing both confusion and outrage about the Big Ten's abrupt pivot from practicing to pausing.
"It's unacceptable," said Corey Teague, father of Ohio State running back Master Teague III. "It's something that needs more explanation because when you go in a certain direction and days later it changes, and no one has spoken to anyone else, and players weren't able to be involved in this decision, and the protocols that were put in by Ohio State were very successful. It's unfortunate and I don't know if it's shortsightedness there, lack of leadership, but it's definitely something that needs to be rectified and more dialogue needs to happen. It's just a very messy situation, and we want to clean it up."
Ohio State parent Kristina Miller, the mother of sophomore offensive lineman Harry Miller, wrote her own letter to Warren. Miller said she first found out the season was postponed through the media, and there was no communication from the Big Ten office.
"There's been no communication, no transparency, nothing to say what has changed in the last five days that we give you your schedule and we cancel the season within five days," she told ESPN. "There's been nothing."
Miller suggested that instead of having the entire conference surrender the fall season, individual teams should have the choice to play or not, noting that Ohio State's president-elect, Kristina Johnson, and athletic director Gene Smith were in favor of moving forward with the fall plans.
"Similar to players having the opportunity to opt out if they choose, we feel like our teams should have that opportunity," Miller said. "We're at a different level of Rutgers and Maryland. I don't mean that to sound pompous, it's just true. Our guys want to play. They want to play and they should have the opportunity to play if they want. They shouldn't be subjected to this vote, yes or no. Well, if you guys don't want to play, opt out. Opt your team out. Let the six teams that want to play, play."
In their letter, the Ohio State parents asked the Big Ten to reinstate the schedule the conference released earlier this month. They also asked for full transparency regarding the health data the Big Ten used to justify its decision to postpone fall sports.
Penn State parents made similar demands in their letter, saying that the Big Ten "should not cancel the season out of fear, but rather look fear in the face, continue to adhere to the safety protocols put in place and make the attempt at a FALL season."
"Why is every conference having their preference in order to play ball or not?" she said. "The main thing that should be the focus is athletes' and the staffs' safety. That's the most important thing, and how it has long-term effects. ... We have to take into consideration the health and well-being of the program because who's to say halfway through the season half of the team doesn't have coronavirus, and what happens then? I'm OK with the decision, I really am."
Maurice Goodson said he would never jeopardize the health of his son, Iowa running back Tyler Goodson, but he's torn because he's also bitter about how it was handled.
"They didn't give us a what, when, why, how," he said. "The parents know the investment the kids put in, so we're frustrated because we want to see them play."
Amanda Babb, whose stepson Kamryn Babb is a wide receiver for the Buckeyes, is the president of Ohio State's parents' association. She said the group is working on a similar letter that will be ready to present to the Big Ten on Saturday, specifically asking for more clarification on why the season was postponed and better communication overall. The Ohio State parents also want to know what the Big Ten's plan is for the spring.
"Playing two seasons in one calendar year is going to be so hard on the body," Babb said, "and if you really care about injuries, you need that time in between seasons and I just really don't know they're allowing that by punting the season into the spring."
Mark Moss, whose son, Riley, is a cornerback for Hawkeyes, said the parents were brainstorming ideas about how the spring could possibly work.
"I said, 'It's almost comical that a group of Iowa football parents are trying to develop a plan that maybe the NCAA and Big Ten should have thought about five months ago because they knew this was coming,'" Moss said. "It's almost like they thought it was going to go away, or there was no answer outside of canceling the season. ... Bottom line for me, I'm not sure the right people were in the room asking the right questions and seeking the right answers to develop a meaningful plan to at least attempt a football season."
On Wednesday, after the Big Ten had announced its schedule, Iowa held a Zoom meeting with players' parents, athletic director Gary Barta, coach Kirk Ferentz and the team's doctors and physicians.
"We all felt comfortable," said Julie Waggoner, mother of defensive end John. "We're not trying to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19, but we are trying to get some clarity and transparency as to why suddenly this decision was made two days into camp. What happened? Especially in light of the fact the rest of the country is still playing football, including the state of Iowa school football."
The Iowa parents are asking the Big Ten to consider pausing its decision so they can hear the medical experts from other parts of the country who are advising the other leagues that it's safe to continue.
"Let's share facts," Waggoner said. "What do you know that the rest of us don't know that caused you to make this decision because there are a lot of unintended consequences about canceling an entire season."
Stacy Wray, whose son, Max, is an offensive lineman at Ohio State, said that as the news broke on Tuesday, coach Ryan Day had a team meeting with the players followed by a Zoom call with their parents, but he didn't have specific reasons as to what changed.
"He didn't let us sit around and wonder for long at all," she said. "Even in that Zoom call, he didn't have all the answers as to exactly why this decision was made, other than there was conflict among the programs within the Big Ten, but I don't even know if that's the full extent of it."
The Wray family was hit with a double whammy this week, as Jake Wray's season at Colorado was also postponed with the Pac-12's decision just hours after the Big Ten.
"I think there's going to be a lot of grief if the ACC and SEC all keep going with their seasons," she said. "I think that's going to get real confusing. Either it's safe to play football, or it's not. I'm glad the ACC is still moving on. I'm glad the SEC is still moving on. I genuinely am. I also think the teams in the other conferences should be able to move on, too."