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Parents protest at Big Ten headquarters, want fall football season

ROSEMONT, Ill. — A group of parents of Big Ten football players protested outside league headquarters Friday to demand more information about what went into the league’s Aug. 11 decision to postpone the fall season.

About 25 parents attended the gathering, which was organized by Randy Wade, father of Ohio Statedefensive back Shaun Wade. The group featured mostly parents from Ohio State and Iowa, althoughIllinois and Wisconsin also were represented. Many parents wore their sons’ jerseys and T-shirts with team logos; some carried signs reading “Let them play!” and “We want to play!”

The Big Ten office remained closed Friday. Commissioner Kevin Warren and members of the conference staff have been working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Warren on Wednesday wrote an open letterfurther explaining the Big Ten’s decision to postpone, after several parent groups from league teams had asked for details. He wrote that Big Ten presidents and chancellors were “overwhelmingly in support” of postponement, acknowledged the disappointment and confirmed that the decision would not be revisited.

Several parents who attended Friday’s protest said Warren’s letter failed to provide enough information about what prompted the postponement, which came six days after the league had released its fall football schedule.

“I’m just a dad, and I just want to spark the conversation,” said Wade, who flew to Chicago from Jacksonville, Florida, on Thursday night. “We don’t have to play in the fall. We want to play in the fall. We want to do everything we can to play in the fall. We don’t like the way the decision went down by the presidents and not knowing whether they voted, didn’t vote. We don’t like that. Our kids wear Big Ten on every jersey.

“We represent the Big Ten.”

Wade wore a T-shirt with “Just a Dad” on the front and “Parents Want Communication Transparency and Safe Football” on its back. He began his remarks with a 17-second moment of silence to honor the approximately 170,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

Wade also led the group in a “Let us play!” chant.

“We, as parents, want to have some transparency of what’s going on, and we should because those are our kids,” Wade said. “Does Kevin Warren think that when they go to school, they’re grown and we don’t matter anymore? … The whole nation’s going to see how the Big Ten responds when parents have an outcry. That’s what’s most important.”

Wade has not reached out directly to Warren, but he said he wants the commissioner to meet with the presidents of each Big Ten parent association and answer questions about the postponement and the next steps.

“The open letter was just a bunch of regurgitation and smoke-blowing and, ‘Hey, I’ve got to say something because there’s so much pressure, so I’ll throw this out there and hope the wolves leave the gate,'” said Brad Beetham, father of Illinois freshman quarterback Josh Beetham. “I’m not saying that the season can go. I’m not saying the SEC and the other Power 5s are going to get their season going, but why jump off the bridge so early and be so definitive now and then double down and say we’re not revisiting this?”

Parents expressed frustration over the timing of the Big Ten’s decision and the limited information from the league and its presidents about why they postponed. Beetham noted that the Pac-12, which also postponed its fall season Aug. 11, released a detailed document the same day outlining its rationale.

“We just want transparency and we want information,” said Kyle Borland, father of Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland and a former linebacker at Wisconsin. “Clearly, the university presidents were not on the same wavelength as university doctors and medical staff, athletic departments and coaches. That’s troubling to the Big Ten.

“The Big Ten’s better than that. They should be better than that.”

Added Jay Kallenberger, father of Iowa offensive lineman Mark Kallenberger: “Who’s the medical team making the decisions? What were the decisions? Who were the schools voting yes or not? We want to know that.”

A group of Nebraska football parents on Thursday wrote to Warren through attorney Michael Flood, who requested that the league release specifics about the postponement decision, additional data and medical information, and other documents or face a lawsuit. Iowa parents on Friday wrote to the Big Ten presidents and chancellors with a list of questions relating to the postponement decision.

Gail Koerner, whose son Jack plays defensive back for Iowa, said she and other parents felt “really comfortable” with Iowa’s medical team and protocols toward COVID-19. Beetham said his son had been tested up to five times per week, with PCR tests and with new saliva tests that are becoming more widely available.

“I would ask [Warren] to lay out in detail exactly what data they relied on to make the decision, and then I would really want to understand exactly what the process was in evaluating that data and coming to a decision,” said Koerner, who traveled from Des Moines, Iowa, to attend the protest. “Both of those things have been … unclear is an understatement.”

Wade and other parents who attended Friday’s protest said their views might change if all college football conferences end up postponing. They also want more information about a possible winter or spring season in the Big Ten and how it affects eligibility, rosters, the NFL draft and other topics. Shaun Wade ranks No. 6 on Mel Kiper’s Big Board for the 2021 NFL draft.

Warren on Wednesday announced that the Big Ten had formed a return to competition task force to examine holding football and other fall sports in the winter or spring.

“Who really knows if they’re going to be able to play in the spring?” said Dornaj Davis (father of Wisconsin running back Julius Davis), who traveled from his home in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, to attend the protest. “You could pull out the rug like they just did. We could be saying, ‘OK, we’re going to play in the spring.’ And the next thing you know, that time comes and, ‘No, we’re not playing, nothing has changed.'”

Julius Davis had COVID-19 earlier this year but showed no symptoms and recovered after being quarantined. Dornaj Davis said Julius likely contracted the virus while spending time with friends before returning to campus for football activities.

“Just because you’re not playing sports doesn’t mean you can’t catch COVID,” Dornaj Davis said. “You’re going to be more susceptible to catch it outside with your friends because they’re not in the protocol that you are with your team. I just don’t get it.”

Wade said Big Ten parents will continue to speak out and try to get answers from Warren as well as from university presidents and chancellors.

“If we got transparency and know who said no and who said yes, maybe we should be protesting on our own campuses,” Wade said. “But we need to know that.”

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