A few weeks ago, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh publicly protested University president Mark Schlissel’s vote to postpone the Big Ten football season.

Since then, Schlissel — and 10 other Big Ten chancellors and presidents — did a 180, reinstating the season in the face of massive public pressure, citing increased testing capabilities and comprehensive safety protocols. Still, with Harbaugh’s contract ending after the 2021 season, the relationship between the two seems fraught. When asked at the protest about his communication with Schlissel, Harbaugh said they hadn’t spoken about the decision, with their only communication being texts and emails from Harbaugh to Schlissel about the football team’s testing numbers and safety protocols.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Schlissel defended the lack of communication with Harbaugh.

“He communicates with me from time to time, but in the instance of how to keep our student athletes safe, that’s much more of a medical decision and it’s much more of a University responsibility than it is a football coach’s decision,” Schlissel said. “I didn’t play professional football and coach a college team and coach a pro team, and Jim didn’t go to medical school and do a residency and become a licensed physician. So we come at things in really different ways.

“I’m respectful of his thoughts and ideas, but ultimately I have the responsibility for the health and safety of all our students and student-athletes. When we didn’t think it was safe, we pulled back, and when we found a way to allow the student athletes to compete with an acceptable level of safety, then we opened things back up again.”

Months before the start of the semester, Schlissel made news by telling the Wall Street Journal that Michigan wouldn’t play football if there were no in-person classes. Four weeks into a semester that’s 70 percent online — and with other Big Ten schools like Michigan State playing football when their semesters are entirely online — Schlissel seemed to stand by that sentiment.

“I think if we send everybody home and there are no in-person classes, it’s hard to imagine having in-person athletics,” Schlissel said. “However, that’s not what we’re thinking of — we’re not thinking of sending everybody home.”

The University’s COVID-19 dashboard shows just 36 positive tests for the week of Sept. 27, a notable decline from 242 last week. But as of Wednesday, there were COVID clusters reported in two more dorms, Mosher Jordan and Alice Lloyd. The University also released a set of criteria for reevaluating the mode of campus instruction on Thursday, including five days of test positivity rates above 20 percent.

As for athletics, Big Ten criteria states that if the team positivity rate reaches five percent and the rate for the population surrounding the team (coaches, trainers and staff) reaches 7.5 percent, practice and competition will be halted for at least seven days. If an individual tests positive, they will be out for 21 days — or a third of the abbreviated season.

Though conferences that have started play with less strict testing protocols have seen about 20 percent of their games cancelled or postponed, the Big Ten came under fire for the lack of public cohesion in its messaging. The split between Harbaugh and Schlissel was a prime example.

“If I stopped being friends with everybody who spoke out publicly about something and disagreed with me, I’d have no friends left at Michigan,” Schlissel said. “The coach is zealously committed to student athletes. He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever met in my entire life, and of course he wants to go out there and play.

“… I actually think (the return to play) was handled very prudently. I’m friends with Jim, you know, we get along fine.”

Daily News Editor Emma Stein and Daily Staff Reporters Calder Lewis and Dominic Coletti contributed reporting to this story.

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