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As of Oct. 26, Michigan undergraduate students are under a Washtenaw County order to stay at home. But Michigan football, which is made up almost exclusively of undergraduate students, still traveled to Minneapolis this past Saturday.

The irony is palpable, and the message of greed that this situation displays has left many malcontent.

The reaction makes sense.

After all, greed is exactly what the optics display. Students who have already paid the University an increased tuition rate for a semester consisting mostly of Zoom classes —  especially now with all classes being moved online other than ones absolutely-necessary to be held in person — are currently being told to stay in place, while the football team soldiers on through increased health risks to play a fall season.

Some say the football players are being treated like employees. While the players are not paid, they provide enormous economic benefit to the University through their services. They are a commodity, and they are being treated like one.

But that’s not the whole root of the issue. The rest lies in the demonstrated value of the general student body’s well-being.

Around 910 student-athletes have received over 9,500 COVID-19 tests as of Oct. 16. In the same time period, the student body of over 30,000 has received about 16,000. Does this seem fair? 

When broken down further, the testing numbers given earlier imply that the student-athlete population has been tested roughly nine times each, whereas the rest of the student body has taken barely half a test per person.

That is unacceptable. 

So, why is it happening?

The easiest way to explain this disparity is to say that the Big Ten is responsible for student-athlete testing, while the University is responsible for the vast majority of testing for the general student population. But that’s simply inadequate.

The testing for the two groups may come from different sources, but the University is responsible for treating all of its students equally — athlete or not.

“If it’s declared that our students can’t come back to campus for class, why would I ask my student athletes to come back and participate in sports?” athletic director Warde Manuel said in a press conference June 18. “It’s against how I think about our student-athletes. They are students first.”

Manuel said that if students can’t come to campus for class, he wouldn’t have student-athletes compete in sports, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. At this moment, the idea of equality between student-athletes and students is a farce and Manuel’s statement is utter hypocrisy.

And that hypocrisy bears consequences for both the student-athletes and general student body.

The reality that student-athletes are being treated as employees rather than students means they need to be compensated as such. The University, and others across the country, can’t have it both ways.

Student-athletes’ services are being exploited and their health put even more at risk as they are being sent out across state lines in a world stricken with a deadly pandemic.

As for the general student population, the testing disparity is massively problematic.

It is great that the Big Ten has provided enough tests for the football team to be tested daily, and for the University to turn down those tests would be ludicrous. But the University needed to, and still needs to, do more to bring student testing up to an adequate level.

More than likely, it would not be feasible to force students into a mandatory testing system that tests as often as that prescribed to student athletes, but the gap cannot remain as large as it is. Not if the University wants to claim equal treatment of all students, at least. So, the University must provide equality by other metrics.

For starters, the University certainly must be able to provide enough tests that any student, regardless of how close of contact they’ve been in with someone who tested positive, can get a test whenever they want to. Moreover, the University can and should devote itself to encouraging students to receive tests as often as possible. 

These practices are feasible, and other universities have proven that. In fact, the University of Illinois, whose student-athletes engage in the same Big Ten testing protocols as Michigan’s, has used saliva tests to conduct more than 639,000 tests to date.

These measures would be very unlikely to bring the test per student ratio up to 9:1, but they would at least take a bite out of the unacceptable 18:1 per capita ratio between student-athlete and general student tests.

And maybe then it would allow for all students to be able to continue the semester as it began right now.


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