Every morning, the Michigan football team comes in to get tested for COVID-19. They get a nasal swab and then wait 15 nerve-wracking minutes for the results.
With the season on the horizon, players must test every day, with negative tests required to practice, travel or play. But according to fifth-year senior linebacker Josh Ross, the tests have become second nature — just another part of the team’s daily routine.
Seven weeks after what was supposed to be their opener, the Wolverines will finally take the field in Minneapolis on Saturday. But there’s still a lot of uncertainty. The Big Ten’s schedule includes nine games in nine weeks, concluding with a championship weekend in which all 14 teams play. But so far this season, 10.6% of scheduled games been postponed or canceled due to the virus, calling into doubt whether the Big Ten will complete its season.
Those doubts have only intensified with Purdue coach Jeff Brohm testing positive Sunday, taking him out of the Boilermakers’ opener. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck told reporters Monday that he knew how many players were out this week but would not share an exact number, implying that there were multiple players who would miss the game due to testing positive.
Big Ten protocols state that players who test positive will be out of competition for 21 days. Coaches who test positive can return after 10 days as long as they have been symptom-free for 24 hours. Additionally, teams may not practice or play if 7.5% of team personnel test positive within a seven-day period.
For its part, Michigan is good to go for Saturday. According to Jim Harbaugh, the team does “not currently” have any players out against the Golden Gophers.
At a protest against the season’s postponement on Sept. 5, Harbaugh touted that the team had zero positives since the end of July. That streak is no longer — Harbaugh said Monday that there had been positive tests since then, though he did not say how many or when the positive tests happened. With no one unable to play against Minnesota, those positive tests were presumably before Oct. 3.
It’s unclear how severe the Golden Gophers’ outbreak is, other than that it must not include more than 7.5% of the team. When asked in September how he would feel playing a team that had an outbreak, Harbaugh didn’t give a direct answer.
“I don’t know what’s going on in the rest of the world,” he said then. “I know what we’re doing.”
Harbaugh has consistently expressed confidence in Michigan’s protocols, and they do seem to be working. While other teams — including Michigan State, Rutgers, Maryland, Iowa and Wisconsin — had to shut down practice due to large outbreaks, the Wolverines have been able to hold every scheduled practice since returning to campus in June. The 21-day sit-out requirement has also served as a strong deterrent against players breaking protocol.
“Not doing nothing at all,” Ross said Monday. “Chilling. Staying home, coming to (Schembechler Hall), doing schoolwork and staying out of the way. That’s all I can do.”
Still, the presence of the virus looms large. Harbaugh refused to name a definitive starter at quarterback Monday, maintaining that he couldn’t guarantee any player would be cleared to play — he did say that junior Joe Milton was “running with the ones.”
And when defensive line coach Shaun Nua was asked about the Golden Gophers matchup last Wednesday, he complimented the team’s potent offense but also acknowledged what’s on everyone’s mind as the season begins.
“I’m not nervous about the game,” Nua said. “I’m nervous about the COVID thing. I wanna make sure that thing is not getting to us.”
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