The University of Michigan’s football rivalry with Ohio State University’s spans more than a century. This year, the two teams will not have the opportunity to play after Big Ten presidents and chancellors, including University President Mark Schlissel, announced that the season would be postponed with hopes of assembling a spring schedule.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, brother of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, has continued to advocate for a football season, telling reporters Wednesday, “Free the Big Ten. Let’s go. Let’s go play some football.” Jim Harbaugh has loudly advocated for playing football this fall, releasing a lengthy statement citing his team’s low positive test rate last month.
On Saturday, Jim Harbaugh attended a protest organized by Michigan football parents calling for a fall football season.
“Free the Big Ten, like my brother John Harbaugh said,” Jim Harbaugh told reporters. “I mean, (it) says it all. We want to be free to play.”
Schlissel was one of the Big Ten presidents who voted in favor of putting off the fall season. In an August statement, Schlissel noted there were “too many poorly understood health and safety concerns unique to intercollegiate athletics to move forward with practices and competition at present.”
On Saturday, Jim Harbaugh said he “would have rather been coming to a game than a rally,” adding that “We should’ve been playing a game today.”
While the Harbaughs criticize the Big Ten, local politicians and university chapters of College Democrats in both Michigan and Ohio are shifting the blame to the Trump administration.
In a virtual press conference Friday morning, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein and students from universities across Michigan and Ohio criticized the Trump administration’s pandemic response while endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden’s policies and campaign.
Trump has been in contact with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren recently, discussing how the conference can resume playing as soon as possible. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that discussions put them on “the one yard line.”
At the press conference Friday, Dingell described her love for Michigan football and her disappointment in the canceled season.
“There’s nothing better on a Saturday than a Big Ten football game,” Dingell said. “Quite frankly, I like football more than I like politics and suddenly we don’t have a season this fall … the way that COVID has been handled from the very beginning is determining what’s happening in this country.”
Dingell said she wears a mask and practices physical distancing to lead by example. Trump has wavered on supporting COVID-19 precautions such as masks and distancing. Most recently, the majority of attendees did not practice these safety precautions at the Republican National Convention.
She acknowledged the frustration of both players and fans and addressed the economic strain these decisions put on towns like Ann Arbor.
“Our college athletes are upset,” Dingell said. “Do you know what this does to a town like Ann Arbor and the surrounding communities or any of the other Big Ten hometowns? It hurts those small businesses and there’s no question — what we don’t need is a president playing politics with a very flammable situation.”
Klein, an alum of Ohio State University, said he was disappointed about the cancellation of the fall season but celebrated the two states coming together to discuss COVID-19 policies and the importance of economic recovery.
“The greatest rivalry in college sports: Ohio State versus Michigan in football,” Klein said. “The fact that we’re coming together to talk about the importance of COVID, recovery, sports, the economy, our health I think is really summed up in the cancellation of a football season.”
Klein said college sports have a massive impact not only on universities themselves but on their surrounding communities as well.
“Our economy is failing and we have no football,” Klein said. “All of that is because of failed presidential leadership. The economy is COVID and COVID is the economy and until the president of the United States recognizes it for what it’s worth and takes it seriously … not only are we not going to have football, we’re not going to have the economic rebound for the families that deserve it.”
Ben Schuster, Business senior at the University of Michigan and presidential campaign organizing director for Ohio students, spoke about Trump’s slow pandemic response, saying Trump failed to heed warnings from scientists about the impact of the virus.
“Donald Trump did not take the steps that we need(ed) to control this pandemic,” Schuster said. “He’s had six months to come up with a plan but instead he's ignored warnings, downplayed the threat COVID-19 poses and attacked social distancing measures that would have slowed the spread.”
Schuster said he is disappointed by the lack of action from Trump on policy issues pertaining to COVID-19.
“I take this rivalry very seriously and Trump always says he's doing something to get football back but he isn’t,” Schuster said. “Like always, he is tweeting demands with no follow-through.”
Managing Sports Editor Ethan Sears contributed reporting.
Daily Staff Reporter Sarah Payne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org