Opinion Roundtable: Will Michigan Play Football This Fall?
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up the entire world and no one really knows when things will get back to normal. As June approaches, people are seriously starting to wonder if football is going to take place as scheduled.
As an immunologist, University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel is one of the more prominent people doubting the possibility of starting on time and his recent quotes in the Wall Street Journal explained why.
"If there is no on-campus instruction then there won't be intercollegiate athletics, at least for Michigan," Schlissel told the Wall Street Journal. "[I have] some degree of doubt as to whether there will be college athletics anywhere, at least in the fall."
Those are obviously pretty strong words, but do they tell the whole story of what Schlissel is thinking and discussing? There are obviously a lot of angles to this and we did our best to wade through what we know and determine if there will be a football season this fall.
The way things are starting to open back up around the country, I don't know how Michigan as a state would keep events closed down and a university like U-M could afford to not play football. If other states and schools are trying to get back to normal and are allowing events and games to take place, it would be program suicide if Michigan didn't.
I'll admit to being pretty uniformed when it comes to the political angles that are involved with schools boards and presidents opposing or agreeing with the governor, but that also has to be a part of it. Schlissel is in the type of position where he has to say what he's supposed to say. He is a smart dude and is an immunologist by trade, so he knows what he's talking about, but he could never say exactly what he thought or believed without getting some sort of pushback from some factions. If he agrees with one person or group, he'll piss off another and vice versa. He's being politically correct and siding with safety. It's not a bad approach.
It's a very deep issue with a lot of layers, but there's no way Michigan isn't playing football in some way this fall. It's too big and too many people would lose too much money for it not to take place.
10 thousand percent there will be a Michigan football season this fall, as there will also be a college football season. Not only that, it will also start and end reasonably on time, and they won’t be playing in completely empty stadiums all season either.
So then why did Schlissel say this?
Well first of all, it’s not that much different from what he’s said all along. Including when he was one of the first school presidents to discuss students returning in the fall.
Next, there are political considerations here. While this is not the platform to discuss the efficacy of Michigan’s governor extending the stay-at-home until June 12, I absolutely believe it is a factor in Schlissel’s comments here. Can you only imagine if the president of the state’s most prestigious university, which is also a taxpayer-funded institution, came out after that extension and said “absolutely there’s gonna be a season and they need to start prepping for it ASAP.”
It puts him immediately at odds with the governor, and the school president at any major university is nothing if not a political post. I would urge Michigan fans to just relax and begin building their collective anticipation for the fall. The winningest team in the history of the sport is not going to self-induce its own death penalty, while everyone else is playing. This is mainly public posturing.
Heading into today, if you would’ve asked my thoughts on Michigan playing football this fall, I’d have put it at 75:25 yes-to-no ratio. Jim Harbaugh has been on record talking about how comfortable he would be playing in an empty stadium, as has Don Brown, so the coaches seem to be on board with that. By all accounts, the players are anxious to take the field this season too, so I imagine they’d be on board as well. The main question is whether the administration would allow play in an empty stadium (on an empty campus), and Schlissel’s comments really put a damper on my optimism. I’m moving my way prediction back to 51:49, yes-to-no. I think Michigan will find a way to accommodate everyone to some degree.
There will be football at Michigan this fall if there is football because to be a holdout would be catastrophic for the University of Michigan brand and bottom line, and I'm not just talking about athletics.
Football and basketball are the front door of a university. That has been proven over and over again. When teams have success on the gridiron or the court, admissions go up, donations go up, prestige goes up. To sideline football this fall IF it is occurring across the Big Ten would crush the athletic department and the university, which will likely have to dip significantly into its endowment fund to help make up for lost revenue due to COVID-19. To replenish those funds, universities will rely on the overwhelming sense of pride and passion that football creates.
On the flip side, to not have football will create a frustrated, boiling-pot alumni that will likely be less interested in donating to the university. It would also put Michigan in a crushing competitive deficit against rivals like Ohio State and Penn State.
It's a non-starter, and I agree with Steve that Schlissel's comments are much more likely politically motivated presently to show support for the governor and current 'stay-at-home' orders than it is to convey a true intent. I'll say this, though, with June 1 approaching for season-ticket deadline, Schlissel would have been far better off just keeping his mouth shut on the issue than essentially tell thousands of fans to keep their money in their pockets.