Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren sufficiently covered his backside.
Sorry to be so crude during this exceptionally pleasant time in our lives. But that was my main takeaway from his letter late last week to Big Ten athletic directors regarding what needs to happen for fall sports to transpire in the conference this year. Actually, the letter was signed by both Warren and Dr. Chris Kratochvil, chair of the Big Ten’s Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases.
You wonder if Dr. Kratochvil, an associate vice chancellor for clinical research at the University of Nebraska, understood exactly what he was getting with this side gig. He's also an executive director at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. That's right, a Husker.
He could be on the verge of helping make college football history, as he apparently will have a sizable say in whether the Big Ten plays the sport in 2020. We say "apparently" because it's difficult to understand exactly which party or parties will make the final call.
In fact, Big Ten head coaches last week raised that very question during a conference call. The answer is there's no obvious answer. It's a fascinating part of the college game in general. It's also a maddening part, and a confusing part — one that has become magnified during a pandemic.
If it's indeed Warren who ultimately makes the final call in the Big Ten, well, he wants you to know he'll have plenty of help. Pardon my cynicism, but I think Warren wants to make it eminently clear he'll have plenty of help just in case he has to pull the plug on the season. It's understandable. He's in his first year in charge, having replaced Jim Delany, who was one of the foremost power brokers in college sports. Delany was shrewd and inspired confidence. He was striking as a leader. He's definitely a tough act to follow. But to be fair, he never had to deal with a pandemic, unless I missed it.
We're just getting to know Warren. He's leading a prestigious, well-heeled conference during a period that's challenging leaders all over the globe in ways they never could've imagined. Warren, for instance, has much to consider, including this: According to a USA Today analysis, the loss of revenue from a canceled college football season stands to be “at least $4.1 billion” for the fiscal year — and that’s only for the 50-plus public schools in the Power Five conferences. That averages to a loss of $78 million in revenue for each school’s athletic department.
I'm told it would be more like $100 million at Nebraska.
But, yes, Warren will have plenty of help in making the big decision. A paragraph in the aforementioned letter to the athletic directors made it clear.
“Our final decision will be rooted in guidance from medical experts and in consultation with institutional leadership, student-athletes, coaches and appropriate federal, state, and local authorities.”
In other words, dozens upon dozens of people will be involved in making the ultimate decision. In Warren's case, it's probably wise to have plenty of people involved. For one thing, if the news is bad, he'd have plenty of cover.
Through all the madness, Bill Moos keeps an open mind. As is the case with his colleagues, the Nebraska athletic director has to be prepared for the worst while simultaneously preparing for fall sports to move forward.
So, Bill, who'll make the final call?
"At the end of the day, the university presidents and chancellors — with input from the athletic directors and conference office — will make the decisions," Moos told me Thursday. "That's the way the governance system is set up. That's not only in the Big Ten, but in most every conference I know of.
"That's a model different from professional sports, where the commissioner has that kind of power to make decisions, in conjunction with team owners."
Warren just might appreciate Moos' assessment of the situation because it essentially takes Warren off the hook and puts the onus on a sizable group of people, the presidents and chancellors. That seems convenient for all involved — you know, especially if the news is rough.
By the way, if the presidents and chancellors make the call, would it be the product of a vote? Would it require a simple majority? Does anyone really know?
"I think it probably comes down to Kevin Warren, the AD at Ohio State (Gene Smith), the AD at Michigan (Warde Manuel) and then probably a group of three or four presidents and chancellors," said a league source.
Who makes the final call? It's a discussion that's at once fascinating and somewhat troublesome. We're talking about people placed in leadership positions for a reason: To lead in good times and bad. They're ostensibly in those positions because they're decisive, effective leaders who are willing to be accountable for difficult decisions.
That's much easier said than done. Especially when it comes to deciding whether to play college football.