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Every Power Five commissioner addressed injury reports and gambling in college football

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One of the bigger hot button issues in college football over the past month has been the focus on what the NCAA, individual leagues and all of the FBS schools are doing to deal with the decision by the U.S Supreme Court to overturn The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and, in effect, open up sports gambling across the country.

With media days wrapped up across the country, CFTalk decided to go back and check to see just what each conference commissioner said on the subject. All the Power Five leaders were asked about gambling, injury reports or a similar subject during their remarks at the podium during their respective media day and here’s a snippet of what they all said.

Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby:

“I think we’re very much in a wait-and-see environment right now. There’s a lot of talk about integrity fees. There is a lot of talk about how it gets managed. Are we really going to end up with 50 states that all have different laws on legalized gambling? There are some states that have moved ahead but most are moving slowly, and, you know, the change in PASBA makes the gambling in college sports legal subject to state jurisdiction and I think we’re going to have to keep watching. What do we end up with if a couple of our states in the Big 12 footprint have legalized gambling and three others don’t? What do you end up with if some say you can bet on professional sports but you can’t bet on high school and college sports? It’s just taking a while to settle in and frankly I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I think that we spend time in football and basketball particularly. We have a consulting group that helps us look at when lines move abrupt and when there seems to be an unusual amount of money bet on a particular game.

“We do it mostly because we want to make sure that we protect ourselves from point shaving and from officiating issues and things like that; but, you know, the mainstream gambling environment, you go to an English Premiere League game, there’s a betting kiosk right next to the hot dog stand. It’s hard to imagine that we’re going to get there with college and universities, but there is some enabling legislation out there that would permit a very far afield outcome from what we have experienced in the past. As near as I can tell, the real losers in the whole thing are organized crime. If it’s legal everywhere, it’s hard to imagine why people would place illegal bets and risk that sort of jeopardy. We’re all keeping our ear to the ground and that’s the best I can answer the question.”

Bowlsby on injury reports:

“I’m not involved in the most recent discussions on this topic, but the FERPA and HIPAA considerations are substantial. Having said that, the ACC has been announcing injury status reports for a while. They don’t get into the specific injuries but I think they use a three-tiered questionable definitely out and I don’t know what the other one is. So it’s not something that you can’t do on your own. We haven’t chosen to do it because we want to get some answers relative to the student records and the like, but my sense is that there’s going to be a human cry for that to happen and as long as we don’t get too far into the specifics of what the injury is and what kind of medication they may be taking and what the duration is and those kinds of things, but some sort of simple system may work. We’ve talked about whether or not it gets managed by the conferences or whether it gets managed at a national level, and I think that’s unresolved at this point.”

SEC’s Greg Sankey:

“Understand that since 2011, members of the SEC staff have been in communication with and learning with those who work in legalized sports gambling. We’ve also been in contact over the last year with representatives from the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the PGA offices to monitor and learn from their efforts and to stay up-to-date on their legislative conversations. Gambling activity around sports is not new, and that includes gambling activity around collegiate sports. What is new is the expansion of legalized sports gambling and the increased cultural acceptance of legalized sports gambling.

“For us, the integrity of our games is of the utmost importance. While it may be preferred to have no expansion of gambling activity, what is needed now is for our state and federal legislative leaders to enact policies that properly support the integrity of our games and provide the necessary protections for our students and our student-athletes.”

Sankey on injury reports:

“In Destin, we briefly discussed the concept of injury reporting with our football coaches and athletics directors. It’s clear that the nature of any so-called injury report around college sports will have very different dynamics than are present at the professional level. FERPA and HIPAA requirements, academic suspensions, other team or athletics’ department imposed suspensions and NCAA eligibility issues make something more like an availability report relevant for discussion. I do not believe this has to happen before the 2018 season, either on the part of this conference or the national level.

“I expect, however, the change in sports gambling could be and will be likely the impetus for the creation of such reports in our future. Identifying the proper approach should be the priority, not haste. And that will result from collaboration among the American Football Coach’s Association and its representatives, the conference, the NCAA national office, learning from the professional leagues and with proper guidance from legal resources.”

ACC’s John Swofford:

“I may be one of the most naive people in the world about gambling, quite honestly. I can’t even tell you the lingo that goes with it, quite frankly. But I know it can be incredibly problematic for the integrity of our games. I don’t like the optics of gambling in college sports, but at the same time, I mean, it’s obviously going on illegally and has been for years, and there are people who are constantly trying to get information about programs and individual players, et cetera, so they can bet the most effective way they think they can. I don’t know what legalizing it — I don’t know how much it changes everything, and I’m not sure anybody does. We’ve talked about this at our commissioners’ meetings a couple of weeks ago, and it’s kind of a, well, what if and what if, and is this going to change or not. I think we’re going to have to see how it plays out some.”

Swofford on injury reports:

“You may remember, we have had not a rule but a gentlemen’s agreement among our coaches to share publicly injury information. We were the only conference that was doing that, and ironically, we decided not to do it this year, so we won’t be doing it this year.

“So we’ll have to see how it plays out, but my guess is we will have a national — I won’t even call it an injury report because I think that we need to include other situations that would be in sync, be consistent across the country. I think that’s critically important, and would include not only injuries but if there’s disciplinary action where a player is suspended for a game or for whatever reason, that would need to be a part of it, as well. And I think that reduces to some degree people you don’t really want coming around players and managers and doctors and anybody associated with the program, coaches, trying to get information in another kind of way, in an underhanded kind of way. My general feeling, and I sense that our coaches’ general feeling is the same, that that’s probably something that needs to happen on a national basis. I don’t think it’ll happen for this season. I suspect it’ll be for next season, but I’ll be surprised if that’s not in place.”

Big Ten’s Jim Delany:

“We’ve had a lot of discussion about the changes in gambling that will obviously occur in the coming years. Couple things. First thing I would say is I think we’ve got great students playing football. Trust them. They’re young. We need to continue to educate them about the challenges associated with gambling and the importance of the integrity of the game. But I don’t think that they are more vulnerable today than they were before the Sullivan case. That’s the first thing I’d say. The second thing is I think we’ve got to double down on the educational element. I think we’ve done that over the years and we continue to do that.

“I think that we would prefer a federal framework that either omits college sports from gambling at the state level. And if that’s not possible, that there be some standardization of a framework so that college sports, high school sports, Olympic sports, those categories of sports receive some additional protection.”

Delany on injury reports:

“On the issue of player availability, I don’t call it an injury report as much as I think about it as player availability. Whether that comes out of an injury or whether it comes out of eligibility or comes out of some transgression of one kind or another, I think we need to do that. I think we need to do that nationally. And I think the reason we need to do that is probably with the exception of the home field, the availability of personnel is critical to people who are interested in gambling legally or illegally. And therefore, when players are unavailable, we should know that, if they’re probably or likely, I don’t have the model code, but I do think it’s something that we should do and probably should have done it before, but certainly should do it now.”

Pac-12’s Larry Scott: 

“We’ve got concerns going forward about kind of a state-by-state approach, and the proliferation of it. But we come at it from a perspective of having a lot of experience in this space. Sports betting has been legal in Las Vegas for some time. Kind of in our footprint. As was mentioned earlier, we have events there. So we’ve had deep relationships for some time with consultants and other entities in Las Vegas that had a very serious interest and commitment to protecting the integrity of sports.

“Our concern going forward is really about the types of regulations, infrastructure, and commitment to integrity that other states might have, as states might adopt this, whether we can have the kinds of relationships with entities to know if there’s some unusual action on a game or some strange movement and timing around the game or reason to be concerned to conduct investigation, which we do from time to time. That’s why we are supportive of the NCAA’s efforts with the NFL and others to advocate for national legislation restrictions and standards around this area. Because my first and foremost concern is protecting our student-athletes, those around our programs, and the integrity of the competition.”

Scott on injury reports:

“Yeah, we’ve had some initial discussion. I’ve had discussion with Jim and with other conference commissioners. We’ve started some conversation internally within our own conference. It’s a complex issue, and one we’re going to have to spend more time thinking about and studying. But we don’t default to injury reporting like the NFL does it as making sense, necessarily, for college sports. There are some fundamental differences. These are students living amongst other students. They’re not living in a cocooned bubble the way professional athletes might. There are certain federal laws regarding privacy related to health issues, not just physical health issues, but the mental health issues that we just talked about.”

Big Ten pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

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The Big Ten won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports’ power conferences to yield to the pandemic.

The move announced Tuesday comes six day after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions.

But it was not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge

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President Donald Trump joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches Monday in the push to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

There was speculation that two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports and became the first school in the Bowl Subdivison to break from its league in doing so; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes had been taken by its presidents and chancellors on fall sports as of Monday afternoon and the powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among the group posting their thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPla. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

Old Dominion has stopped trying. The Virginia school canceled football and other fall sports less than a week after Conference USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown players can be safe after they return to school.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” he wrote. “I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football, but you also know that you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” added Sasse, a former college president. “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football.”

Players unite in push to save college season, create union

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Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players pushing for the opportunity to play this season despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”