Boston College, Pitt and Virginia all pulled out of playing bowl games this weekend, ending their football seasons early. Duke basketball, just a few days after coach Mike Krzyzewski expressed concern about playing through the holidays during a pandemic, canceled the rest of its non-conference schedule. Stanford’s football team, marooned off campus due to local restrictions, announced on Sunday that it, too, would forego a bowl.
On Sunday, the Big Ten announced that Michigan football’s final game will be at Iowa on Saturday night, as part of the conference’s Champions Week. Nobody knows yet whether the Wolverines will be healthy enough to play after their own COVID-19 outbreak, but that doesn’t matter. They shouldn’t play.
Michigan is 2-4, and reportedly would have had somewhere around 45 players out this week between those who were injured, sick and those who had to quarantine due to close contact had there been a game. Sans waving to their families in the stands, few on the roster have seen their loved ones since they got to campus in June. They’ve been getting tested for COVID-19 every day since Sept. 30, shuttling between Schembechler Hall and home, adhering to rigorous social distancing.
Let them go home. End this season, end it now.
There’s nothing to be gained by playing on Saturday, or at least nothing that isn’t heavily outweighed by the downside.
Is another week of game tape — with a diminished roster and minimal practice, no less — worth another week of slogging through protocols? Is a chance to go to the Big Ten’s seventh-best partner bowl worth not hugging your family for another week? Is another game to evaluate this coaching staff really going to change anyone’s perception anyway?
If they win, it’s a nice ending to what’s still Jim Harbaugh’s worst season at Michigan. If they lose, it’s an expected loss to a Top 25 team. Maybe Joe Milton or Cade McNamara show you something, maybe not. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t amount to a compelling reason to play.
COVID-19 aside, if Michigan has nearly half its roster in quarantine, is playing worth the injuries that could come as a result?
No. Of course not.
“It’s tough to sacrifice in these difficult moments,” men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard said Sunday. “Your life has been taken away.”
The pandemic, if nothing else, has exposed our priorities. It’s easy to argue that college sports — sports in general, really — have been too high on the list.
A Michigan-Iowa game that amounts to a glorified exhibition just six days before Christmas doesn’t deserve to be on that list. No amount of TV money should change that. Neither should anything Kirk Herbstreit says.
At some point, the mental health and safety of everyone involved with the football program needs to come first. And that point is right now.
“For them to stay healthy and stay away from COVID, it took more out of them than anybody has any idea,” Boston College coach Jeff Hafley told reporters this week. “They’re worn out. As we look now with other teams continuing to battle COVID, it’s getting worse, and for us to go through three weeks of practice, continue to stay healthy, continue to stay away from our families and then not know is the bowl game really going to happen? Are we going to miss Christmas with our families and then be told on the 25th that we’re really not going to play?
“These kids want to play football, but 11 games, nine in a row at one point, without having their mom or dad there after the game to hug them or say hello, the mental health of these kids is more important to me than anything. We decided the biggest reward we could give these players was to be able to go and let them finish finals and go spend time with their families. They’ve earned it, and they deserve it.”
So does Michigan.
Sears can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @ethan_sears.
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