INDIANAPOLIS — During the first day of Big Ten football media days Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium, commissioner Kevin Warren did not provide any specifics about how the conference will approach COVID-19 and its effects on scheduling if a team is unable to compete. Unlike SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who suggested Monday at SEC football media days that games for teams in his conference could be forfeited due to COVID-19, Warren's stance wasn't clear.
He stated that Big Ten presidents and chancellors came together and voted in a meeting June 6 to have a "decentralized process" regarding COVID-19 protocols for their respective schools. Once the Big Ten receives that information from its 14 member schools, it will then determine conference-wide rules.
"Our schools are finalizing their proposed policies and procedures for the fall," Warren said. "We'll get that information in early August, we'll combine it and then we'll get together with our chancellors and presidents and other key constituents to make the determination as far as how we handle the fall. ... We're right where we wanted to be."
Warren said he has been in contact with other Power Five commissioners, seeking out their perspective and advice. However, he didn't give a concrete answer when asked if he and his peers have discussed how COVID-19 could potentially be a competitive advantage or disadvantage for the teams that are more or less affected by it.
"One of the things we have been fortunate about is that I have weekly calls with the other (Power) Five commissioners, that we stay up with each other. We communicate with each other," Warren said. "We're in this together."
Although Warren's answers Thursday about COVID-19 were vague, he added that all of the Big Ten's COVID-19 protocols will be in place by its first football game of the season.
That contest, featuring Nebraska at Illinois in a Week 0 matchup on Aug. 28, will also mark the return of college football season as a whole. Regardless of what the conference's COVID-19 protocols look like by then, first-year Illini coach Bret Beielma said his team has already given itself the best chance to have a normal campaign.
"If everybody follows through, every person that's eligible to practice will be vaccinated (Aug. 1)," Bielema said of his roughly 120 players and additional staff. "I think we'll be one of the few teams in college football that can say that, players and coaches."
Bielema, who spent the last three years coaching in the NFL, said he didn't really have to push for his players to get vaccinated. They took it upon themselves after experiencing an unpredictable 2020 season caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Although Illinois didn't cancel a competition during the 2020-21 sports season due to its own COVID-19 issues, there were still hurdles.
"The reason why I got vaccinated was because I missed two games last year due to contact tracing and that was one of the hardest things that I've ever had to go through," Illini center Doug Kramer said. "I sat in a hotel and watched some of my best friends, my teammates, my brothers go out there and battle on the field and I couldn't do anything about it, even though I wasn't sick. ... I don't want to miss any more games. I don't want to miss a practice. I want to be around the team, and I want to make sure I do everything possible to play this season."
Nebraska coach Scott Frost, who was very outspoken last season when the Big Ten initially canceled the season before resuming competition, deferred all of his thoughts on COVID-19 and the possibility of forfeits to the conference.
"I don't have an opinion on that and I won't," Frost said. "We fought hard for football last year because we thought it was the right thing. I’m really grateful to the people that helped make it happen so that we could get a chance to play last year. Where we landed last year was a good place. I thought the season came off well with the Big Ten and was managed well. We’re going to trust them to make those types of decisions.”
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