Around 2:15 p.m. on Sunday, an email from a Purdue spokesman landed in my inbox with the subject line, “Jeff Brohm Tests Presumed Positive for CoVid-19.”
Welcome to game week in the Big Ten.
Until now, it’s been easy to feel a little removed from things as the rest of the country has played college football. Not anymore.
We watched Georgia and Alabama on Saturday, but at this point, Tuscaloosa and Ann Arbor feel like they’re in separate countries. That sentiment is even more pertinent when the camera cuts to the stands at Bryant-Denny Stadium and Crimson Tide fans are lined up in columns, as if the coronavirus doesn’t spread vertically, with their masks in several variations of on.
Football has been a sideshow to distract as we’ve worried about the virus here on campus, where even the administration at the University has started to publicly admit there might be a problem as quarantine housing hits 50 percent and keeps climbing and Mary Markley Hall goes into pseudo-quarantine for two weeks.
The University said this week that an announcement on the format of the winter semester would come by Nov. 1. It’s not particularly easy to argue that the fall has been a success, unless they’re only looking at the death toll (thankfully, zero) or their own bottom line.
Now, we’re supposed to worry about … how Joe Milton plays at quarterback?
Purdue’s head coach is likely positive for COVID-19. Hopefully he recovers in full. Based on what we’ve seen in the conferences that are already deep into their seasons, though, we can glean two things:
Brohm won’t be the last positive case.
This season is a farce.
In the AAC, Houston has had five games postponed due to COVID-19. In the SEC, Florida coach Dan Mullen called for a crowd of 90,000 at The Swamp after his team lost a game, refused to walk it back, then tested positive for the virus all in the span of a week. In the Pac-12, California state regulations didn’t permit teams to hold an actual practice ahead of the conference’s Nov. 7 start date, then things got changed around so they could (though Stanford must go to a local high school). Two of the current AP Top 10, Ohio State and Penn State, have yet to play a game.
Exactly how anyone is supposed to rank teams in this environment is an impossible question to answer. So is exactly why anyone should care who makes the Playoff or wins the national title.
Let me expand on that a little. I will watch, report on and write in detail about Michigan football this season. The Daily will have as many writers at as many games as regulations allow for. It’s fantastic to have college football back, and the distraction it provides from everything is wonderful. But this feels weird. The entire season is an exercise in cognitive dissonance.
Let’s be real. Has there ever been a Michigan football game that feels less important than this one?
It seems wrong that football players can get tested daily when regular students have trouble getting asymptomatic testing. It doesn’t sit right that, beyond a brief moment in August, the entire conversation around football coming back failed to include the idea that players should be paid for what is an obvious exchange of service to make universities money — and one in which their health is even more at risk than usual. It is bizarre that we’re having a season and acting like everything is OK when games are getting postponed every week because players have caught a pandemic disease.
Following the daily machinations of a season — who’s hurt, who’s healthy, how does Michigan match up against its opponent this week — in this environment feels like clinging onto a routine when the world is burning. It’s hard to blame anyone for trying to have games given the economic circumstances and the general public being OK with — even actively wanting — football.
I’m not sure that I can blame anyone or be upset, given that games happening are an objectively good thing for me, my career aspirations and The Michigan Daily at large.
That doesn’t change how weird this feels.
Welcome to game week. Stay safe.
Sears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ethan_sears.
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