The Wolverine

September 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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50 THE WOLVERINE SEPTEMBER 2020 I t was no surprise when the Big Ten finally shut down fall sports Aug. 11, not even to the play- ers in Schembechler Hall. After months of players doing whatever they could to prepare for fall foot- ball, from finding monkey bars on abandoned playgrounds to breaking out dad's old weights in the garage, there was still a sense of inevitabil- ity in the building (according to many we've spoken with) that it was all for naught. The hot takes followed, as they always do: "It's the demise of Big Ten football should the SEC, ACC and Big 12 make it through their seasons," was a popular one. Extremists like former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz even predicted the pandemic would end after the November election. On the flip side, many others ad- monished the decision makers from the southern conferences, calling it irresponsible and wondering how they could put their student-athletes in such danger. "Why aren't they listening to the doctors?" some were saying. Fact is, they were. The ACC deci- sion, in fact, was influenced by Duke University's Dr. Cameron Wolfe, the chairman of the ACC's medical ad- visory team. He told Sports Business Daily he believed football could be safely played this fall. "Will it be tough? Yes," he said. "Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do be- lieve you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that's no different than living as a student on campus." In short, like many other subjects in this country these days, there's no consensus, even among the medi- cal experts. That should come as a surprise to no one. Take jury trials in which both plaintiffs and defendants call doctors as expert witnesses. One's strep throat is the other's Bubonic Plague. But the one area in which many are in agreement — this wasn't han- dled well. Michigan redshirt junior safety Hunter Reynolds lamented that the decision-makers didn't even ask for players' input. "I think we definitely feel like our opinion and our voice wasn't heard in the matter," Reynolds said on a FOX News interview. Fellow defensive back and fifth- year senior Tyler Cochran took it a step further on Instagram. "Unfortunately, the incompetent Presidents of the [Big Ten] decided, despite constant testing and strict protocols, that the voices of the players were irrelevant and can- celed the season," Cochran wrote. "It's even more disappointing that [Michigan President Mark Schlissel] did not come speak to our team or even explain his decision-making process. Not surprising since I've never seen him in the facility in my four-plus years here." Harsh, for sure, but undoubtedly one of the reasons the U-M parents were so disappointed in the outcome. "We feel that the decision to cancel the 2020 season was premature," they wrote. "We also believe the Big Ten and university presidents failed to ex- ercise due diligence by not acquiring the input of the very student-athletes their decision would impact." Among their requests were video meetings with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and Schlissel, detailed descriptions of the facts used to cancel the season, the protocols and safety practices for all Big Ten teams, and a reversal of the postponement of the 10-game football season. Though the latter remains un- likely, the parents have continued to press the issue. Their sons and the coaches jumped through every hoop asked, they noted. "The fact our staff and coaches bent over backwards to isolate them, they found them that hotel, they had grab-and-go meals, they had the whole thing sanitized — are you kidding me?" asked Lisa Mc- Caffrey, mother of redshirt junior quarterback Dylan McCaffrey. "The stuff they went through to make it so these kids could [play], and they knew all along they weren't going to be playing? What a waste. That is psychological torture." That may be a bit overly dramatic. This is disappointment, not tragedy, and young college football players face adversity in their lives all the time. Regardless, this is a tough one for them, especially since there's one thing we still don't know — was the fall shutdown really necessary? Time will tell. Column after column has been written — some pro, some con — but the future will provide our evidence. Even then, just as today, numbers will be spun to fit narratives, and there will be disagreement. Either way, don't expect the Big Ten to change its decision. And that leads us to the last kick in the groin for us Michiganders: The Detroit Lions will be the ones carrying the football torch for us this fall. Indeed — football gods, help us all. ❑ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS On Deaf Ears Parents of Michigan football players pub- licly released a letter Aug. 17 praising the protocols in place under head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff, and ultimately ask- ing for a reversal of the decision to postpone Big Ten football until the spring. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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