Michigan’s Republican leadership is demanding the Big Ten reconsider its decision to postpone fall sports.

Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Lee Chatfield and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey signed onto a letter to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren requesting he reevaluate the choice to delay the season.

Eight other Republican political leaders from Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin added their names to the letter. 

The 10 co-signers expressed concern that because three of the five major conferences have decided to play fall sports, Big Ten athletes would be disadvantaged. 

“Recent actions taken by other conferences across the country to start football and other fall sports have placed the Big Ten, its members and students at a disadvantage,” the letter read. “These athletes are losing a vital part of student life and are becoming less marketable to future employers with each passing week. Additionally, our local universities stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars that support vital student scholarships.” 

In a statement, Chatfield said his past experiences as a student athlete was integral to his development, and that restarting football has a lot of support from its stakeholders. 

“The Big Ten’s current direction is the wrong choice for the conference, for our area universities, and – worst of all – for thousands of our local students,” Chatfield said. 

“The Big Ten should reverse course as soon as possible and do everything possible to help their students restart extracurricular activities safely,” Chatfield added. 

Chatfield and Shirkey aren’t the only politicians putting pressure on the Big Ten. On Sunday, President Donald Trump, who has said he has been in contact with Warren, tweeted that the conference would find a way to move forward, criticizing governors in Michigan, Illinois and Maryland.

“Big Ten Football is looking really good, but may lose Michigan, Illinois, and Maryland because of those Governors’ ridiculous lack of interest or political support. They will play without them?” the tweet read.

Big Ten presidents and chancellors voted to postpone fall sports in early August due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel was one of the 11 presidents who voted to push the season back. 

This past weekend, Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh, as well as various players and parents, rallied in favor of holding a fall football season. Harbaugh said despite sending texts and emails, Schlissel has not spoken with him about the decision. 

“Well I mean, (I) would have rather been coming to a game than a rally,” Harbaugh said on Saturday. “But (that) definitely hits you. We should’ve been playing a game today.”

Harbaugh has consistently supported playing football this season. In response to the Big Ten’s decision to put off athletic competitions, Harbaugh released a statement saying he believed playing football was safe. 

“Our football team, our coaching staff, our support staff in Schembechler Hall have all stepped up, followed every rule, and done everything in their power magnificently to give all the opportunity to compete,” Harbaugh’s Aug. 11 statement read. “I am extremely proud, thankful and appreciative of our team and how they have conducted and represented our program and university.”

Players have previously said they feel their perspectives were not considered in the decision to postpone the fall season. The letter released by Chatfield underscores support of players, parents, coaches and fans for fall sports to continue. 

Chatfield and his fellow co-signers said they believe the precautions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 could ensure student-athletes are safe to play fall sports. 

“Just last month, under your leadership, the Big Ten released updated and enhanced testing, quarantine and isolation policies,” the letter said. “Our coaches and players should be given a change to make them work. After all, this region is home to some of the world’s leading institutions of higher learning, scientific research and medicine, and we are confident that they can continue to safeguard the health and safety of our student athletes.” 

Democratic politicians in Michigan and Ohio blame the Trump administration for the lack of a football season. They say the administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic is the reason a fall sports season would be unsafe. 

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., explained this belief and expressed regret for the lack of a football season in a press conference on Sept. 4. 

“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.”

Daily Staff Reporter Emma Ruberg can be reached at eruberg@umich.edu.

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