A version of this story appeared in print on August 31.
Let’s take a moment of silence. Take this time to reflect. To mourn. We have lost a valued member of our college experience — athletics. On Monday, Aug. 10, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren announced the conference postponed all fall competition, which includes our beloved gameday weekends, until further notice because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The entire season is likely all but canceled. To call this a “tragedy” is a massive understatement. “The selfish answer is that I am sad because I want to watch sports,” Business freshman Matthew Berube said. “But at the same time, I think (canceling fall sports season) is smart. … With this new ruling, they can now return quicker when it is safe.”
Like many other students, I was enthusiastic about collegiate athletics and everything that comes with them. From prior experience, there is nothing more satisfactory than the crisp autumn air, a sea of maize and blue and singing “The Victors” at the top of your lungs. For freshmen, this is just another disappointment in our already dismal year. If you’re like me, there’s a reason you told everyone you chose the greatest university in the world — academics, the alumni network, etc. But then there’s the other major factor in your decision: football Saturdays.
Yet before we grab our pitchforks and storm Director of Athletics Warde Manuel’s office, we should realize that the University of Michigan is just as heartbroken as we are. In any other difficult situation, our leaders would combine their respective intelligence and figure out a creative solution. Except we live in a world where one must both clothe their faces and stand 72 inches away from one another at all times. How can we expect a myriad of contact sports, as well as those played in an indoor facility, to survive this virus’s wrath?
Think about it: Linemen crashing into each other like wrecking balls every snap, two volleyballers meeting at the top of the nylon and sweaty locker rooms? I don’t think Dr. Fauci would approve. If you’re still skeptical of the motives behind the decision, look no further than the University’s pockets. By canceling fall sports, the University has sacrificed $122.3 million in football revenue, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and an estimated loss of $85 million to the city of Ann Arbor, via local business owners.
If there’s one thing all of us have experienced these past six months, it’s making unpopular choices. We’re staying at home for the fall term instead of showering in a community bathroom. We’re isolating ourselves for the last fourteen days of summer when we should be soaking up the final rays of sunshine in our hometowns.
We’re forcing ourselves to choose our heads over our hearts. It’s not necessarily healthy, but then again neither is contracting COVID-19.
It’s why we, as students, should be able to understand the difficulty of this decision on both sides. Even though deleting fall competition from our agendas is undoubtedly infuriating, we cannot let it distract us from the ultimate goal: safety among the University community. In our attempt to achieve it, we must carry on valiantly. We must not become complacent with the current condition of our athletic climate, but rather seek to improve it by continuing to do our part: masking up, washing our hands frequently and staying six feet away from each other. As of Aug. 14, Michigan athletics has two new COVID-19 cases out of 254 tested, via the Detroit Free Press.
The University is already taking a massive risk. Allowing students to live in dorms, occupy common areas like the Michigan Union and inevitably congregate — all while abiding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines — is a lofty request at best. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, they’ve switched to total remote learning to reduce residential density. Michigan State did the same.
Could we be next? Maybe. One thing is for sure: If the University can attempt to safely accommodate us, we can patiently stand by for a safe resumption of athletics in return.
College sports, in their infinite wisdom, have illustrated that the proper amount of time can improve the outcome of a player or team. Joe Burrow was a backup quarterback at Ohio State for two years. In his senior season at Louisiana State University, he won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship, then became the first pick in the NFL draft.
College sports also unite us through a common love of the game. If nothing else, the Big Ten’s decision verified the infectious passion that we have for our colleges. The shared despair is unprecedented, but then again, so are these times.
This is why, when we comfortably return from this problematic state of the world, collegiate athletics will still be there. They will embrace us with open arms and an electric environment for us to revel in once again.
In the meantime, we wait. The passion that athletes share for their sports is not lost on us, but neither is the well-being of our campus population.
Sam Woiteshek can be reached at email@example.com.