The Big Ten football season appears to be on the verge of cancellation for the fall, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is making one more plea to play. In a statement released Monday morning amid reports that the Big Ten would postpone the season, Harbaugh laid out why moving forward with football would be the right thing to do.
"I'm not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players' desire to play, but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13," Harbaugh wrote. "I am advocating on Aug. 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts."
Harbaugh then listed that the program had:
- Just 11 positive tests out of 893 administered, including zero out of the last 353 administered
- Zero positives among coaches or staff members
- No contact tracing to Michigan's fields, weight room, locker room or facility
- Zero pauses in training
- Complied with all CDC guidelines and self-implemented stricter standards for contact tracing in quarantining to prevent spread
Harbaugh also noted that Michigan's chief medical officer, Darryl Conway, said he wished "others could see this model."
"It is proven that the conduct, discipline and structure within our program have led to these stellar results," Harbaugh continued. "We have developed a prototype for how we can make this work and provide the opportunity for players to play. If you are transparent and follow the rules, this is how it can be done."
Harbaugh ended the statement with the #WeWantToPlay and #WeWantToCoach hashtags, which began late Sunday night when several players, including Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, listed their demands for a safe football season. Among them was the desire for a players' association as representation at the Power Five level.
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Michigan's numbers are to be commended, but the reality for not only the Big Ten but any conference or team attempting to play football this fall, is that not every situation is identical or ideal. Michigan State, for example, showed how quickly things can spiral out of control and quarantined the entire football team in July as a precaution to additional positive results. An outbreak within the Rutgers program delayed the release of a Big Ten schedule that now may not even be played this fall.
There's no denying that isolation, testing and tracing, and other preventative measures are critical to slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Indeed, player safety is closely monitored inside a program that has the means to do so. But there's also no college football bubble and innumerable ways for infection to spread to players, coaches, trainers, staff and anyone else tangentially related to a game. The goal of stopping a pandemic is to stop it for everyone.
Michigan might be doing all the right things, but the margin for error for more than 100 FBS teams is almost nonexistent. That is what decision-makers are weighing as we enter a critical stretch in determining whether football can be played in the fall. "Want to" was never a question.