During Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting, University President Mark Schlissel spoke publicly for the first time on the Big Ten’s decision to postpone, and then reinstate the football season.
Schlissel was one of 11 presidents and chancellors who voted in August to postpone the season, and yesterday released a statement supporting the Oct. 23-24 start. In the interim, he dealt with criticism from inside the school’s own football program, with football coach Jim Harbaugh participating in a protest advocating a small season, and saying he hadn’t spoken with Schlissel on the matter.
“(The initial postponement) was because our medical experts were not confident in our ability to precent coronavirus transmission during competition, especially in contact sports,” Schlissel said. “In addition, there as deep concern about reports of preliminary investigation of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart in people recovering from COVID-19. It was feared that the combination of intense exercise and myocarditis could be particularly dangerous for student-athletes.”
The Big Ten’s mitigation strategy now includes daily rapid testing for COVID-19 for athletes, coaches, trainers and other relevant personnel on the field starting Sept. 30. If an athlete tests positive, they will be out for a minimum of 21 days — 14 due to COVID and another seven to test for heart issues.
If over 2.5% of the population on a given team tests positive over a seven-day rolling average, additional cautions will be taken. If the number rises above 7.5%, practices and games could be cancelled.
Schlissel cited this as reason for changing his mind, and indicated fall sports besides football will come back in short order.
“This approach to daily testing and heart monitoring will be used to allow other fall sports to return to competition as well,” he said.
The Big Ten has yet to announce anything regarding non-revenue sports, with commissioner Kevin Warren saying Wednesday that conversation would start “tomorrow” and that football had been the league’s priority.
With testing only available for regular Michigan students who either have symptoms or have come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19, Schlissel has been criticized for speeding athletes to the front of the line while not regularly testing the rest of the student body.
He noted the league, not the school, is paying for athletes to be tested in attempting to justify the inequality.
“This will not affect our campus testing capacity,” Schlissel said. “Football will not be played in front of fans this fall, but it will be great to have coach (Jim) Harbaugh and our outstanding team representing U-M in the months ahead.
“If all goes well, the first game is scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 23 and 24.”