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No matter how it votes, Big Ten owes it to players to pick plan now

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Ohio State continues to go through non-contact practice as it waits to return to competition. (Courtesy/Ohio State Dept. of Athletics)

Ohio State Football

No matter how it votes, Big Ten owes it to players to pick plan now

COLUMBUS — Pick a plan, any plan.

Granted, not all of the options available to the Big Ten are equal. And honestly, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to play in January without the league’s top stars on the field or to push back to November and leave the top teams out of contention for the College Football Playoff.

But whatever, that’s only the overwhelming consensus from coaches, players, family members, fans, business partners and now a growing number of politicians around the Big Ten. If the presidents and chancellors don’t agree, they can always dust off the puppet strings for commissioner Kevin Warren, bring him out of hiding and explain why they don’t see fit to start playing on Oct. 10.

It’s time for that group to make a decision, though. The student-athletes that they’re supposed to be supporting deserve better than to have to keep going through 12-hour workweeks and non-contact practices without knowing what it’s all for. So, if the choice is to align with the Pac-12 or to brace for an indoor schedule during flu season, one way or another it’s time to put the proposals on the table and pick one.

Oh, and it would also help if it could publicly defend the choice this time, although it’s probably best to take this one step at a time.

Kevin Warren-Big Ten-Big Ten commissioner

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has been missing in action over the last month. (Brian Spurlock/Imagn)

This process has already been confounding enough, and the Big Ten has done itself absolutely no favors by continuing to let it drag out for a full month. Maybe the presidents don’t feel a sense of urgency since they already pulled the plug last month and appeared content to wait until January to shoot for a restart. But that would mean that they aren’t listening at all to the student-athletes who earlier this summer they were praising for starting to use their voices to bring change. It means they aren’t concerned about the lawsuits, protests, petitions, competitive issues against other conferences, potential loss of trust in headline coaches like Ryan Day or Jim Harbaugh or the hundreds of millions of dollars that are going to be lost by not making every possible effort to play.

Other than that, sure, feel free to get comfortable, Big Ten leaders. Hope the desk chairs have enough back support and the corner offices are all big enough for their liking.

Look, there can be no doubt that the situation has clearly changed since early August, and it’s only exposed how faulty the hasty decision-making process was to cancel the fall season instead of delay in the first place. Other leagues with significantly fewer resources are playing, and there have been no outbreaks from playing games. Yes, there have been rosters that have dealt with health concerns and multiple games have had to be rescheduled already — but that was always going to be the case, which is why there were medical protocols put in place when the Big Ten released its short-lived schedule last month.

Even if money was the problem for the Big Ten (which it obviously isn’t), the White House has already offered to assist the league in acquiring tests and was open to providing more help if needed to get the players back on the field as soon as possible. Instead, multiple sources confirmed to Lettermen Row that Warren has just had a couple follow-up calls with the administration that didn’t include any acceptance of tests or any feedback on what else might be required to play.

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Ohio State parent Gee Scott Sr. spoke at a protest at the Horseshoe last month. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Everybody knows there is some element of risk involved in playing during the pandemic. But A) Football is always dangerous; B) That’s why the opt-out option exists and C) The ongoing success in both other sports and this one have provided a blueprint for getting back on the field for anybody who chooses to be there. Taking away the opportunity from players is damaging enough on its own, but offering no guidance on when they might get it back is bordering on cruel.

The Big Ten can’t afford to drag its feet any longer. Just about half of the league is already in support of playing next month, and there really only appears to be one Major domino left that needs to fall. If it doesn’t, there are going to be some repercussions for the league on the field potentially for years to come. But if that’s the way the vote falls, so be it — at least the players, coaches and families will have the information available to them to make any decision about the future that suits their interests.

There is probably no such thing as a perfect solution to the presidents or chancellors right now. It’s a difficult decision, there’s no doubt about it. But that comes with the gig, and they need to do right by the players by picking a path and getting to work on the next step.

The Big Ten has already wasted too much time without a plan. It needs one now.

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Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.