First-year Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has become a convenient punching bag for decisions made by the conference during the 2020 sports year.
Bending to accommodate Ohio State hasn’t won Warren support from fanbases outside of Buckeye Nation. First, the Big Ten decided to reduce its six-game regular season minimum to allow Ohio State to play in the Big Ten title game. Then, it reduced its 21-day guideline for players to sit out following positive COVID-19 tests to allow more Buckeyes to be available for Friday’s College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson.
But Warren and the league made the right call in delaying the start of the football season to late October. It may have cost the conference a second New Year’s Six bowl spot, but it ensured the health and welfare of Big Ten athletes, which is more important than any trophy or additional revenues.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 erred on the side of caution when it came to myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle linked to COVID-19 that can lead to heart damage and irregular heart rhythms. It took heat from the national media and even some doctors who chimed in those heart risks were overstated. Eventually, the Big Ten caved into public pressure to resume the football season but not before putting stringent medical protocols in place, including cardiac MRI screenings.
Other conferences, including the SEC, didn’t go to the same cardiac screening lengths.
Which brings us to the scary incident earlier this month involving an SEC athlete, Florida standout basketball player Keyontae Johnson.
Johnson was cleared for competition by the SEC after he tested positive for COVID-19 over the summer after undergoing an electrocardiogram and an echocardiogram but no cardiac MRI. He collapsed on the court during a game against Florida State on Dec 12, spending three days hospitalized in critical condition before recovering.
The big question now is why Johnson collapsed. No official cause has been released, but the Gainesville (Florida) Sun, citing an anonymous source with knowledge of Johnson’s medical chart, reported Johnson has been diagnosed with acute myocarditis, further fueling speculation of a link between Johnson’s COVID-19 infection and the collapse.
No heart screenings are foolproof, but among medical professionals, cardiac MRIs are considered the most accurate and comprehensive tool in diagnosing myocarditis.
Warren and the Big Ten have done right by putting as many measures in place as possible to ensure player health and safety. It wasn’t a popular decision, but it was the correct decision.
NO BOWLING FOR IOWA
No. 15 Iowa’s scheduled Music City Bowl game against Missouri on Wednesday was cancelled Sunday due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Tigers' team.
As a result, the Hawkeyes will end the 2020 season with six straight wins and a 6-2 record. Iowa’s crossover game with Michigan on Dec. 19 also was canceled because of COVID-issues with Michigan’s program.
"We are extremely disappointed to have our season end today," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in a statement. "This is a remarkable group of players and men, and it has been an honor to coach them. This has been a very special team. We have overcome several challenges together during a season like no other. I am incredibly proud of this entire team and saddened that we will not have one more chance to get out and compete together."
Four Big Ten teams remain on track to play bowl games this week, which includes Wisconsin facing Wake Forest in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl (Wednesday, noon, ESPN), No. 14 Northwestern against Auburn in the Citrus Bowl (Friday, 1 p.m., ABC), No. 3 Ohio State against No. 2 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl/national semifinal (Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN) and No. 11 Indiana against Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., ABC).
Northwestern was picked to finish last in the preseason Big Ten men’s basketball media poll last month. But the Wildcats have gotten off to a surprise 3-0 start in league play after wins over Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State. With two wins over ranked teams, Northwestern was rewarded with the No. 19 ranking in the AP men’s basketball poll Monday.
Sophomore point guard Boo Buie has helped spark Northwestern’s strong start, averaging 14.4 points and 5.3 assists.
On Saturday, Northwestern rallied from down five points in the final four minutes to upend the No. 25 Buckeyes, 71-70.
“I like the resolve of our team,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “They are a connected group. They believe they’re supposed to win. They believe the can win, and they are confident.”