Craig Roh: "You would sacrifice almost anything in your life for football."

Jake Sage

A former starting defensive end at Michigan and featured guest expert on WTKA's "Inside the Huddle with Michael Spath",Craig Roh spoke this week about a number of issues facing today's college football players, and his belief that even with the COVID threat, the players have a singular focus on working out, practicing and competing to perform on Saturdays. 

“All of what you're working for in the offseason is the season,” Roh said. “You want to show your best stuff on the field, and a lot of guys have NFL aspirations. So, having it be so on the edge of what this season is going to even look like and even what normal life is going to look like would be a huge concern for me.

“Are we even going to have a full 12 games? We don’t know if there is going to be 100,000 people in the stands or if that’s even allowed. It may be a far different Michigan football experience this year from what it has been in the past. 

"I think all those thoughts would be weighing on my mind.”

The NCAA allowed voluntary workouts to resume June 1 with the Wolverines returning to campus later in the month. Roh noted he would attend the voluntary workouts as soon as he was allowed, and acknowledged the old-school football culture of doing whatever is necessary for the team would win out over individual concerns. 

"Being a 'non-team guy' on the college level is a cardinal sin,” Roh said. “So, if you're a guy that’s not going to 'voluntarily’' workouts, that’s going to lose you a bunch of points coming into the season and will probably affect your position playing. I know the coaches are definitely looking at that sort of stuff and saying, ‘How committed is this guy to being great?’

“And to be honest, from a harm perspective if you're looking at 18-22 year olds, even if they do get the coronavirus the majority of the cases [so far] express themselves just like the flu or cold. Knowing that, I probably would be working out with the guys.”

Roh believes the mindset instilled in football players of leaving it all out on the field and their tough-it-up mentality may be one of the reasons many players are willing to sacrifice their health.

“You're taught from a very young age in football ‘You will die for this,’” Roh said. “You would sacrifice almost anything in your life for football. So, with the coronavirus, guys are testing positive from this, sure, but nobody has died yet, so I’m going to come back and play football.”

Roh also notes that college athletes are more likely to believe their immune to the sickness and simply don’t think their health as much as adults might.

“When I was 18-22 years old I honestly didn’t think about my safety ever,” Roh said. “I could almost guarantee I would have the invincibility factor, and I would look at those guys that got the virus and be like 'Dude you got a cold.’ I would probably be making those sorts of comments.”

Roh also believes that in some instances if a player decides not to show up to voluntary workouts because they are worried about the virus coaches may use that against them. Yes, even in today's climate. 

“Any guy who is not going with the program will affect the coaches’ perception of that player, even in times like this,” Roh said. “To be honest a bunch of these kids are probably hanging out with their friends anyway. There is just as much risk of getting the virus hanging out with friends as there is working out with the team, and the team is taking a ton of precautions. So, if a guy or two said ‘Hey, I don’t want to do this,’ my BS meter might go off and say, ‘So, do you just not want to do these workouts or are you actually concerned about your safety?’”

While that may be the case for some student-athletes, Roh also thinks the situation of coming back to campus should be handled differently for every player.

“Maybe there are guys who are coming into contact with elderly relatives quite a bit in their life, and they are really concerned about that. For me, it would really be on a case-by-case basis to determine what the guy’s actual situation is.”

Roh understands why universities are considering isolated dorms for its student-athletes to make sure they stay away from the regular student population, but also acknowledged many players may not follow the restricted guidelines to keep them isolated.

"A lot of guys aren’t going to follow the rules," he said. "There is going to be a lot of bad behavior going on. College students aren’t exactly known for following rules all the time.”

Universities also may consider online classes for their student-athletes to limit their exposure to the rest of the student population.

“In terms of online classes that makes sense,” Roh said. “We are living in a new time anyway, and a lot of guys don’t like going to class. So, if you can just open up your laptop and partake in the class that way, a lot of guys would enjoy that. I would probably have enjoyed that too.”

To listen to the entirety of the Craig Roh interview, click on the embedded podcast below or download "Inside The Huddle" on your mobile device.