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Could COVID Bring Down the Corrupt Collegiate System?

It’s clear to everyone that the Big Ten made a disastrously premature and, let’s be honest, an at least partially politically motivated decision to cancel their college football season. It’s hard to decide whether the now-discredited medical rationale they used or the arrogance they demonstrated was worse.

But being a life-long Notre Dame fan in my Big Ten home state of Indiana, I’ve had a front row seat for the pushback. And keep in mind, Purdue University and Indiana University stink at football. I can only imagine what it’s been like in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin – home to teams that actually had a chance at competing for something meaningful this year.

Still, as Notre Dame kicked off last Saturday against Duke in their home opener – with 10,000 some fans in their stadium despite the threat of inclement weather all day – my Twitter timeline was filled with the agitation, angst, and anger of Big Ten fans fuming at their league for overplaying their hand so spectacularly.

Though the league’s commissioner, Kevin Warren, has taken the lion share of the blame for the decision – undoubtedly fueled by the knowledge that his son would be suiting up and playing this season in the SEC – it really wasn’t his. It was the brain trust of Big Ten college presidents. A group that now, facing intense public backlash, is alleged to be back-peddling and scrambling to find a way, any way, to restart some form of a season.

But regardless of whether the league is able to get nine schools to swallow their pride, admit their mistake, and agree not to deprive their hardworking college athletes the opportunity to make a better life for themselves (at last count there were 7, with 2 vacillating), the entire scene has exposed the gross and corrupt underbelly of what is happening in the conference.

It took a lawsuit from 8 Nebraska football players to get the league to be transparent enough to release information from the original 11-3 vote against a season. To that point, the chancellors and presidents had arrogantly attempted to shield themselves from public scrutiny despite the fact that their fat salaries are paid by public taxes.

Not long after that, the attorney’s general from both Ohio and Nebraska have upped the ante. In Ohio, the state’s top legal officer has opened the door for their school (Ohio State) to sue the conference. Shortly thereafter, Nebraska’s AG Doug Peterson sent a warning shot across the bow of the Big Ten as well.

Peterson has demanded copies of the conference’s bylaws and for explicit documentation proving that those bylaws were scrupulously followed in the process of cancelling the season. Additionally, Peterson has demanded the Big Ten provide its supposed “secret” medical information that it relied on to make the decision.

I can’t imagine that even if the Big Ten decides to reverse course and allow some of their student athletes to do what they came to the university to do, that the issue is over for them. And I hope it isn’t.

Several of us have been desirous of a reckoning in the corrupt world of post-secondary education for years. If it’s the COVID crisis that precipitates it, all the better.

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