Although the Big Ten’s return to play was decided by the conference’s presidents and chancellors, the efforts of its student-athletes helped push them in that direction.
Ohio State junior quarterback Justin Fields and graduate defensive end Jonathon Cooper were at the forefront of the movement to reinstate the season. Cooper — who was forced to redshirt last season after playing in just four games due to an injury — said that the postponement decision was tough for him, but he’s excited to get the opportunity to play a season this fall.
“It was tough, it was hard. Obviously, just not being able to control what was going on because I couldn’t control my injury that happened last year and not being able to play hurt a lot,” Cooper said in a conference call Friday. “We’re over that now and I’m just happy we got it back.”
Cooper was involved in a conversation with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and student-athletes from each Big Ten program in the days following the conference’s decision to postpone.
In the meeting, Cooper said that he expressed his support for the safety guidelines in place at Ohio State while also emphasizing the idea that the players should have had a say in whether to play or not.
“The main thing that I expressed to him was that we wanted to play and that we felt that we were safe in the environment that Ohio State created for us,” Cooper said. “I felt the players should have the choice whether they wanted to play or not. I didn’t feel like making the overall decision was the best thing for everybody, because everybody’s situation is different.”
Although Fields didn’t have direct contact with Warren, he put the pressure on him early in the process.
On Aug. 16, Fields posted an online petition calling on the Big Ten to reevaluate its decision to postpone and immediately reinstate the season. The petition received over 300,000 signees.
“We want to play. We believe that the safety protocols have been established and can be maintained to mitigate concerns of exposure to COVID-19,” the petition reads. “We believe that we should have the right to make the decision about what is best for our health and our future.”
Fields said he believes that his petition made an impact on the Big Ten’s decision to bring the fall season back.
“I definitely think it had an effect,” Fields said. “If it didn’t end up having an effect, I don’t really care because, at the end of the day, we all got what we wanted and that was the opportunity to play. So I was really just trying to do whatever I could to get the season back.”
With the constant pressure put on the conference by Cooper and Fields as well as student-athletes from around the conference, the Big Ten’s decision to reinstate the season also came with the added bonus that the conference would be eligible for the College Football Playoff.
However, the Big Ten’s nine-game season has its teams playing less regular season games than their Big 12, Atlantic Coastal Conference and Southeastern Conference counterparts, which could play a factor in the voting process. Despite this, Fields said that if the Buckeyes run the table, there is no reason they should miss out on the playoff.
“I think the playoff committee does a good job with evaluating each team and seeing what teams they think should be in the playoffs, so I don’t think a different amount of games is going to change the outcome,” Fields said. “I think that if we take care of business on the field like we’re supposed to then everything should take care of itself.”
Fields said he thinks that this Buckeye team’s efforts in getting the season reinstated will be remembered in Ohio State history forever.
“I think it’s definitely going to go down in the history books for the way we fought back,” Fields said. “If we end the season like we want it to, I think we should definitely have a ‘30 for 30’ for sure.”
While Cooper is excited to get another opportunity to play this fall, he said that if the Buckeyes don’t make the most of the season then the fight to reinstate it will be in vain.
“It was unreal honestly,” Cooper said. “The thing is that even though I felt so happy and so blessed to have the season and everything, I know that everybody fighting for a season, everybody working so hard to get us a season will be for nothing if we don’t take care of business and get the job done.”