MADISON (WKOW) — Two Wisconsin legislative leaders joined eight other Midwestern lawmakers in calling on the Big Ten to reinstate fall sports.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, added their signatures to a letter dated Tuesday and addressed to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren.
“We would like to express our desire for the Big Ten to reconsider the decision to cancel the football season,” the letter said. “After hearing from many concerned students, parents and coaches, we have been encouraged to convey our support for their wishes and our responsibility to defend the students’ long-term academic and career interests.”
Leaders from legislatures in Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania also added their names to the letter.
In August, the Big Ten announced that it would delay all fall sports until the spring due to health and safety concerns stemming from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” Warren said at the time. “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 legislative leaders argued that because other conferences still intended to play sports in the fall, athletes attending Big Ten schools, like UW-Madison, would be at a disadvantage.
“These athletes are losing a vital part of student life and are becoming less marketable to future employers with each passing week,” the letter said.
The lawmakers hailed the Big Ten athletic programs for establishing health and safety protocols and said they felt confident in the medical care on offer in the midwest.
However, cases have been on a steep upward trajectory at UW-Madison.
The school reported nearly 150 new cases yesterday and well over 300 in the last three days.
In Wisconsin, eight people between the ages of 20 and 29 have died from COVID-19 so far. In total, 1,168 Wisconsinites have died from the disease.
Fueled by the increase of infections among UW-Madison’s student body, Dane County reported what was at that time its highest single-day total of new COVID-19 cases Saturday.
Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, lamented the milestone in a statement: “With the addition of so many students in our community, and more testing on the UW-Madison campus, we expected a rise in cases, but this isn’t a record we wanted to break.”
Dane County reported even more cases the very next day.
The surge prompted Chancellor Rebecca Blank to call on students to limit leaving their residences except for the essentials. The university also made changes to certain communal activities like requiring student organizations to meet virtually and changing the union dining halls to only offer carry-out.
Blank raised the specter of ending in-person classes if the situation does not improve. “If infections don’t fall, we will need to make more difficult decisions that significantly reduce our ability to have campus open to students.”
The letter from lawmakers bears no mention of the increase in cases at UW-Madison and other universities around the country, instead remaining concerned with the athletes.
“The support among players, parents, coaches and fans is overwhelming,” the legislative leaders wrote. “Therefore, we respectfully ask that you take their concerns to heart and work with the leadership at our universities to allow sports to continue safely this fall.”