Sitting on a Zoom call with reporters early Tuesday afternoon, seniors Andrew Stueber and Josh Ross were asked whether or not they thought the 2020 football season was worthwhile.

Neither hesitated.

“People come here to play football at a high level, so I think everyone on the team wanted to play,” Stueber said. “I’m sure I don’t speak for just myself, I think everyone wants to play football at the highest level they can, so we’ll do any protocol, anything that they want us to do. We’re fortunate that everyone on this team was so good up until two weeks ago. 

Added Ross: “I have no regrets about playing this year. We knew what we were getting ourselves into when we started this season.”

The Michigan football team called off its game against No. 16 Iowa two hours later, putting a formal end to the worst season under sixth-year coach Jim Harbaugh to date. While Stueber and Ross were assertive in claiming that the season was worth it, it’s easy to see the other side of the argument.

The Wolverines spent the season climbing out of bed at the crack of dawn for daily early-morning COVID-19 testing, practicing enhanced social distancing and carrying the daily pressure of a potential outbreak. And for what?

A dismal 2-4 record. The worst halftime deficit in Michigan Stadium history. The program’s first-ever loss to a team 0-5 or worse. The first season in program history without a home win. The end of a three-decade winning streak against Indiana. An embarrassing home loss to in-state rival Michigan State as a three-touchdown favorite. The list goes on.

“It was worth everything,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said Monday. “It was worth every bit of training since March.”

For Michigan, the question of whether or not the season was worth it dates back to last spring. The Wolverines went their separate ways after the cancellation of spring football in March, and as the pandemic worsened over the summer, questions lingered about whether or not there’d be a fall season.

When the Big Ten initially postponed the season in August, Michigan came together as a team in protest. It’s those ups and downs of what came before the season, Kemp says, that were a “journey” in their own respect.

“The season, of course, will be defined by how many wins and losses that you have,” Kemp said. “That’s just the nature of football and that’s just the nature of the game we play, but there’s so much other growth and so many other accomplishments that we’ve accomplished as a team. So much adversity we’ve had to fight through. We’re still here and we want to fight some more.

“There were plenty of opportunities to just kind of give up, give in and see where this season goes, but every week we’ve come back into this building just wanting to get better and doing everything in our power to win on Saturdays.”

The latest adversity came in the form of a COVID-19 outbreak that forced Michigan to pause all in-person football-related activities two weeks ago and cancel scheduled games against Maryland and Ohio State. Even though the Wolverines hoped to play in the Big Ten Champions Week, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said the team would’ve been without more than 50 players against the Hawkeyes on Saturday due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing.

In a season players insisted was worth it, the outbreak proved to be the nail in the coffin.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.