Over the weekend, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel made headlines (and many U-M fans cringe) when he adamantly noted that if students do not return to campus in the fall, then there will be no football.
While publicly Schlissel is agreeing with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the university and the athletic department are also working diligently behind the scenes to put Jim Harbaugh's team in position to suit up for a full 12-game schedule, including road contests … with obvious safety and health concerns at the forefront of everything U-M's advisory committee is working on.
The players want to play, one prominent current Wolverine telling a source of ours, "We understand there is a risk, but everyone wants to play.
"We could suffer major injuries, we know about concussions and brain injuries but guys still play because this is what we came to Michigan to do. Every guy on the team signed up for this because it's our chance to make it to the NFL or get our degree."
According to sources Wolverine Digest spoke to inside the athletic department and those advising U-M's relevant decision-makers on possible solutions, every game on the schedule is potentially in play, but with conditions. Michigan's Week 3 opponent, Arkansas State, for instance would still have to agree to a trip to Ann Arbor, as would any visiting team.
Likewise, is Michigan willing to travel, understanding the moment it leaves Ann Arbor it cedes a certain degree of control?
"To me, the issue of flying vs. driving, say if we filled the Washington game with someone closer, is not really a determining factor because Michigan charters planes, we can fly out of Willow Run Airport where we can control who interacts with our players just as much as if we loading everyone up on buses and needed drivers.
"The concern we have, and every program will be facing for an overnight trip, is where is the team staying? Because traditionally you stay in a hotel, and you're not renting out the entire operation, so your team has a lot more contact opportunities with other guests, maid staff, the waiters and hospitality and such. So that's one of the big factors that must be navigated."
Some of the scenarios we've been told are on the table is having each school designate one "host" hotel for visiting teams, with thorough vetting and quarantining of employees, while not allowing other guests to stay at the hotel (though to get hotel owners to go along with that will be difficult).
A second scenario involves a home school hosting visiting teams/personnel in on-campus housing, in a dormitory, again where workers have been isolated and tested regularly to limit the risk.
Michigan could decide to cancel the trip to Washington and fill the game with a Mid-American Conference opponent or even Notre Dame (the Irish are "off" Sept. 5 following an Aug. 29 matchup with Navy in Ireland that almost certainly will not get played overseas but in South Bend), however, in voiding the UW game, Michigan would likely have to cancel the 2021 matchup in Ann Arbor or even make the trip to Seattle next season.
"I know our coaches want to play the game, our players want to play the game at Washington, and it would be good for our television partners and for the Big Ten, but obviously there are mitigating factors and getting sued by Washington for breaking our contract is not one of them," a source noted. "During these extenuating circumstances, our lawyers would have no issues there.
"The No. 1 concern is how much control would we have to give up and how high are the risk factors of taking the team across the country for an overnight trip. If we can't feel reasonably confident in the ability to keep our team safe, then I can't see President Schlissel or [Athletic Director] Warde Manuel signing off on it."