Sitting on practice field behind Schembechler Hall, the Michigan football team learned what most already knew: Their season — like those of the MAC and Mountain West — would have to wait. The Big Ten, the first Power Five conference to do so, postponed their season, with hopes of playing in the Spring.
They were in the middle of a break between practices when the news came down. Their meetings Tuesday morning went normally, avoiding the rumors that had circulated the day prior about season cancellation, President’s votes and rogue teams. The second part of their preseason schedule, practice, would start at 3 p.m., but a text from Compliance Services brought them back to Schembechler slightly earlier.
“I’m feeling a little conflicted because, you know, there’s been a lot of work put in and it’s a lot of time for us to get right over the summer, and it just getting canceled randomly –– well, not randomly, but getting canceled –– has put a toll on our team and our morale overall,” offensive lineman Trente Jones said. “Right now I’m just a little conflicted.”
“We’re pretty devastated, everyone’s pretty devastated,” senior defensive lineman Jess Speight said.
“We’re all bummed, but we’re taking it day by day,” junior quarterback Max Wittwer said. “There were rumors, we heard the MAC canceled their season and we didn’t think it would have any role to play in the decision made by the Big Ten. We heard all the stuff, we just figured that we would surpass them, basically.”
The players, like the rest of the college football world, are now left with questions. About eligibility, about when competition returns, about practice, about everything. And those feelings of devastation, dread and loss turned quickly into a grasp on what it all means.
“Right now, we don’t know how eligibility is going to work,” Jones said. “That’s why a whole bunch of the seniors are kind of worried, but I feel like the messages have been clear with playing and time and stuff like that.
“I don’t know how it would work with the spring season and then having a fall season, or would we go to Spring season every year? That was my thoughts when I initially heard it.”
Michigan will continue to practice for 20 hours a week after getting clearance from the Big Ten, and ultimately finished doing so on Tuesday.
While Jones is worried about the details, it’s clear from talking to the players that they see this as simply a delay, a roadblock. That if the country does what it needs to, there’s a chance that football can return and that those 20 hours a week will prove vital.
“Any season getting canceled is pretty sad,” freshman defensive back RJ Moten said. “I mean, it just gives us more time to prepare for the season and especially the big games that we have here.”
But for that to happen, the players on Michigan know it’s not in their hands. That clichéd line “control the controllables” will only get them so far. The Wolverines controlled what they could, and it still got them a canceled season. The frustration is clear that what they can’t control will end up deciding their sport’s feasibility, that this is a problem beyond Jim Harbaugh’s office or the gridiron.
“I hope (we can play later), especially with the whole corona thing,” Moten said. “Everybody needs to know that it’s serious.”
“It’s very unfortunate about how this whole situation was handled,” Wittwer said. “I feel if they implemented the programs and protocols that we had here in Schembechler Hall, then this really wouldn’t have been an issue.”
The heads of Michigan players as they left practice weren’t held high, smiles didn’t reach past their masks and to their eyes. Carrying boxes of takeout, they hardly spoke as they went to their cars, they looked at their feet and pulled out of the parking lot quietly. All the work they’d put in since last fall, the precautions taken as they returned to campus, those practices and hashtags didn’t work. The dreams of a fall season died on the practice field behind Schembechler Hall.