Though schools are individually announcing that athletes will be permitted to return to campus in June for voluntary workouts, Michigan is taking a more cautious approach to reopening. The university has not yet set a date for athletes to return -- the state's stay-at-home order has been extended through June 12 -- and school president Dr. Mark Schlissel is ruling out college athletics in the fall if there are no on-campus classes.
"If there is no on-campus instruction then there won't be intercollegiate athletics, at least for Michigan," Schlissel told the Wall Street Journal. Moreover, Schlissel expressed that he has "some degree of doubt as to whether there will be college athletics [anywhere], at least in the fall."
An immunologist by trade, Schlissel's opinion differs from other decision-makers across college football. For the past couple of months, the 2020 season has faced serious doubt as the country shut down with shelter-in-place orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. But in recent weeks, coupled with states slowly reopening, more optimism has spread that football and other fall sports could be played.
Last week, the NCAA Council announced it was allowing its moratorium for voluntary on-campus athletic activities to, paving the way for conferences and schools to take the next steps towards college football and other fall sports. The and later announced plans to reopen campuses for offseason workouts starting June 8 and June 15, respectively. Ohio State and Illinois are among the first Big Ten schools to allow athletes to return to campus in June. However, the Big Ten's annual media days, normally hosted in Chicago in late July, .
Schlissel's more conservative comments echo the lack of unity the COVID-19 outbreak has caused within the college athletics community. Cases and deaths vary by state, and as such, so have response sand reopening guidelines.
Michigan, in particular, has been one of the states hit hardest by the coronavirus with more than 5,200 deaths, according to the CDC. In all, COVID-19 related deaths in the United States are about to pass 100,000 in the coming days with more than 1.6 million confirmed cases. Other Michigan-based universities, including Central Michigan and Western Michigan, have announced they will have students on campus for the fall semester.
So while the NCAA and some conferences have given the green light for athletes to return to campus, putting forward an important first step in the return of college football in 2020, the devil remains in the details.
To have 130 FBS schools, let alone those outside of that division, all start on time as planned is asking an awful lot. Even if college football is played, how that would look is also up in the air.
Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said on ESPN's "Get Up" last week that he would be OK if home games in Michigan Stadium were, while Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith was that would allow 22,000+ fans for home games.