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March 12, 2020

Commissioner Kevin Warren

Bankers Life Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, Indiana

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Big Ten Conference Commissioner Kevin Warren. We'll start with an opening statement.

COMMISSIONER WARREN: Good morning or good afternoon now. One, I would like to thank you all for making the time to come today, but also I thank you for everything you all have done to promote and report on our great tournaments and all of the Big Ten intercollegiate athletic sporting events.

Today has been an interesting day. I would say the last couple months have been very interesting from a health and wellness standpoint.

As you make these decisions, which are not easy, you have to always ask yourself, What is the right thing to do? I just felt very strongly that the right thing to do for our student-athletes and for our fans and for the media and for our families, our coaches, our administrators, was to make sure that we cancel the Big Ten men's basketball tournament.

I just found over my career the more complicated decisions are, basically the answer is much more simple, and that is to always base your decisions on what is the right thing to do.

I strongly believe we have a fiduciary responsibility to our student-athletes first and foremost, our fans, coaches, administrators, what is fair, even if they want to continue playing.

But I think as the administrators, as a conference, as our chancellors and presidents, athletic directors, the athletic representatives, senior women administrators, we have a responsibility to make sure we're always taking care of the health and wellness and the safety of our student-athletes. So the decision was made this morning to cancel the remainder of the men's basketball tournament.

THE MODERATOR: We will take questions.

Q. What changed from last night to this morning?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: I don't think any changed. Quite naturally this has been something that I have been evaluating over the last six weeks as far as even going into our women's tournament, then the men's tournament. I went and attended the Big Ten wrestling championships at Rutgers on Saturday, then coming back here.

One of the great things we did some time, a week or so ago, we actually formed a Big Ten Infectious Disease Committee. We have 14 incredible academic institutions. One of the things I want to make sure that I do is rely on the information and guidance from individuals in our conference.

Also it's just to make sure we are thinking what's best for our student-athletes. So I spent a lot of time thinking through this, meditating on it, and really this morning praying on what is the right thing to do for the health and safety of our student-athletes.

It became crystal clear to me that I would recommend to our chancellors and presidents and athletic directors that we would cancel the men's basketball tournament.

Q. Obviously the players got as far as onto the court at 11:00. It seemed rather instantaneous if you're thinking about it at 8:00 in the morning. Why allow them to go through the emotions?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: That's a wonderful question. I had to make sure that I was comfortable, that I had spoken to the appropriate people.

I think one of the things that is important to me, not only as a human being but as a commissioner, is transparency and communication.

It was really important to me that I had an opportunity to talk to all of our chancellors, presidents, athletic directors and other key individuals on our campuses to discuss this issue.

These are big decisions. They have major ramifications as far as scheduling, all the other different things. So those things take time to be able to do it with people's schedules. You don't want to rush these decisions. It would have been great if it could have been two hours earlier this morning, but it wasn't.

I think the biggest thing is we made the right decision. I feel very good with our decision. I'm very confident with our decision. We have a fiduciary responsibility in the Big Ten to always show leadership especially in tough times. I think that's something that we did today to do the right thing.

Q. With what transpired last night with Coach Hoiberg falling ill, the quarantine of the Nebraska players, did that get a lot of people's attention and raise the concern level?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: The answer is yes, quite naturally when it happens in your environment. But that was one piece of the decision-making process. I feel confident that I would have come to the same decision this morning with or without that. That was an element of it, but it was so much bigger than that.

I think the biggest thing for me was to make sure that we had time. I just found during life that if you take a step back, very rarely do you regret it. We needed to make sure we had the appropriate time to make the appropriate decisions. This won't be the last decision. We'll go right from here to start evaluating how long is this for, what other events does it impact.

But I think the biggest thing for us is to make sure that we had time. This allows us to take a step back, take a deep breath, gather information, gather qualitative medical information, consult with our experts and continually make good decisions. Time is our friend in these kinds of situations.

Q. The verbiage in the release is 'canceling'. The NBA said 'suspend'. Is there any chance that later on you might revisit concluding the tournament?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: I would say no. I think it's important, we wanted to make it clear, that we're canceling it because, again, first and foremost we need to make sure we protect the health and safety of you all, of our student-athletes, of our administrators, of our fans.

I wish I knew more information. This is a fluid situation. I can't recall the last time we've had a pandemic, but we do here. It's really important that we're thoughtful. If it comes down that I overreacted or we overreacted, I'm comfortable with that.

I think as I sit here today in these kind of situations, you can never overreact from a safety standpoint, and I think we needed to make sure we went to the highest level to give us a chance to deal with this acute problem.

Q. With the weight this league carries, what should happen with the NCAA tournament?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: I did communicate with Mark Emmert right before the release went out so he would know what was going on.

I'm a big believer, once you make a decision, once you feel in your heart that it's the right decision, regardless of what anyone else did, it was not going to sway me or sway us as far as the decision that we made.

The only thing that I would offer from an advice standpoint, whether it's the NCAA or any other person in my seat, would be just make sure you put the student-athletes at the epicenter of your decision. If you do that, I think you'll be led to the right decision.

As I thought through it, like I say, spent time, when I woke up this morning even more so than I felt yesterday, I just felt in my spirit that this was the right thing to do to make sure that we're doing what we're saying we're doing, and that is that we want to make sure that our student-athletes have an opportunity on our college campuses to get a world class education, to participate in intercollegiate athletics, but we create an environment that they are healthy from a holistic standpoint, from a mental health standpoint, physical standpoint, and we show them leadership.

This is a chance for a lot of people to understand and learn what the Big Ten stands for, that's to make sure we're going to make decisions, whether they may seem complicated, I know for us, I'm honored to be able to serve our presidents, chancellors, athletic directors, faculty, athletic reps, 10,000 student-athletes who call themselves Big Ten student-athletes.

Q. As far as you know, to be clear, no one here has tested positive, been quarantined?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: No, no, not at all.

Q. In your conversation with Mr. Emmert, did you get any sense about what they are going to do at the next level?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: I did not. It was a very, very brief conversation. It was more so out of respect. I just wanted him to hear it from me first before he read it. We didn't have that conversation. Probably lasted about a minute. I just wanted to let him know so he was aware. I'm sure people would call him, but to let him know what we were doing.

Q. Did the use of that word 'pandemic' by the WHO sway you?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: No. Again, whether they had used the word 'pandemic' or not, I still would have reached this decision.

I think the biggest thing is the uncertainty. I'm a big believer in asking a lot of questions, gathering information, and making decisions based upon the best information that I have.

This is one of those situations that there were a lot of people who were telling me: I don't know. I get concerned when I hear 'I don't know' a few many times.

I don't want to have any regrets. I want to make sure as a conference we do the right things because if something had gone awry here, I don't want to be in a position looking back saying, Only if we would have canceled this tournament.

I know we all love college athletics, we love basketball, women's and men's basketball. This is a great time of the year. It's part of the fabric of our country.

Again, these are not easy decisions, but I feel very good with the decision we have made at the Big Ten Conference to cancel our Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament.

Q. We're at a basketball tournament. The Big Ten Hockey Tournament is next. Decisions made regarding those games?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: Again, that's what my afternoon will be filled with, is making those other decisions. I just thought from you all's standpoint, from our fans standpoint, student-athletes and coaches standpoint, we needed to make this decision for this tournament today because that's right in front of us.

We have a hockey tournament coming up, gymnastics, wrestling, a lot of different things that are coming down the path that we need to decide on. I just wanted to be able to take a breather today and start working through those different issues. Again, have a lot of conversations. I know this won't be the last time I'll see your smiling faces so we can talk about these issues.

Q. You mentioned the good news that no one has tested positive. Do you know if the Nebraska players and staff were tested?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: I don't know that. I will find that out today. Last night quite naturally the games went late. Last night was a late night. This morning was an early morning. I've been working on this throughout the morning.

As I sit here today, I don't believe anyone has tested positive for the virus, thank God.

Q. When you were making the announcement, the teams were preparing for their game, specifically the two teams including Michigan, when they were getting ready, how did they find out you were making this decision and stop warming up?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: Once we made the decisions and talked with our chancellors and presidents, I made it very clear we did after that call, we had a call with our athletic directors, senior women administrators, faculty reps. I believe the two athletic directors were Warde Manuel from Michigan and Pat Hobbs at Rutgers, talked to their appropriate coaches, who also then disseminated that information to the team.

I thought it was important that the individual institutions have a chance to communicate that to the teams because then that way, if the student-athletes or coaches had questions, they could answer them. That's how the information was distributed to the student-athletes.

Q. I believe the ACC just crowned Florida State the No. 1 seed, the tournament champion. I was wondering if you had any plans to crown a champion when there wasn't a tournament played?
COMMISSIONER WARREN: As I sit here today, it is difficult to crown a champion if you don't compete. We do have three champions from the regular season. That's the other thing, when you think about it, we were blessed with an incredible Big Ten basketball season, the number of teams that played well. We have those memories to really think about as we sit here today.

I don't think I would recommend to our staff or crown a champion from the tournament because we didn't get a chance to play the tournament.

Again, I just want to thank you all for everything you do. I know your jobs are not easy. You take time away from your families to sacrifice. It's these kind of memories that will carry us for a long time. Again, I thank you for your professionalism and supporting our conference. Look forward to working with you.

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