The Michigan mess: UM president is awfully quiet while players, parents and coaches speak up
Mark Schlissel must abide by the old “silence is golden” adage. It would be the only explanation behind the University of Michigan president’s tight-lipped attitude as a storm erupts in Ann Arbor following the B1G’s decision to postpone the college football season.
Schlissel, an expert in immuology, isn’t the only president hiding beneath his desk. Questions remain nearly a week after B1G commissioner Kevin Warren announced the postponement of fall sports. Most B1G presidents, particularly the ones who most-likely voted “no” on moving forward with fall athletics, haven’t been too eager to speak.
That’s not just a problem at Michigan, it’s across the conference. What is unique in Ann Arbor, however, is the apparent disconnect between Schlissel and the student-athletes, coaches and parents.
Fairness is important. It’s appropriate to point out that we still can’t say with certainty that Schlissel voted “no” on playing sports this fall. The final tally hasn’t been released. What we can say, with a high degree of certainty, is that players, parents and coaches don’t believe they received a fair shake in the decision-making process.
Again, that’s not just a problem at Michigan. It’s everywhere.
The frustration is still bubbling in Ann Arbor over a lack of leadership and communication from the highest office. It resulted in a pretty harsh accusation from Wolverines fifth-year defensive back Tyler Cochran. In an Instagram post, Cochran claims UM’s president was a ghost in the team’s football facility. There was a reluctance to get a full understanding of the great lengths Jim Harbaugh, his staff and medical personnel were going to keep players’ health and safety at the forefront.
“Last year I decided to drop a class to come short of graduation by 1 credit to come back and play my final year of eligibility. Unfortunately, the incompetent Presidents of the B1G decided, despite constant testing and strict protocols, that the voices of the players were irrelevant and cancelled the season,” Cochran wrote. “It’s even more disappointing that the Michigan president did not come speak to our team or even explain his decision making process. Not surprising since I’ve never seen him in the facility in my 4+ years here. Due to this decision, I, along with many of my brothers, may never be able to play the game of football again.”
Cochran’s post received plenty of likes from his teammates.
And perhaps that’s why Harbaugh was so vocal the week the B1G made its final decision. Not only did the sixth-year head coach advocate to play this fall, he provided factual statistics and detailed the team’s safety precautions in an attempt to convince decision-makers a season could be salvaged.
Harbaugh pointed out Michigan’s .12% positive test rate. He referenced the program’s latest 353 administered tests, all returning negative results. But when Harbaugh’s efforts fell short, his discouragement was sensed in a statement on Tuesday.
“Our student-athletes and coaches want to compete,” Harbaugh said. They have committed, trained and prepared their entire lives for this opportunity, and I know how much they’re disappointed at this time. I share in their disappointment today.
“We have shown over the weeks since returning to campus that we could meet the challenge and provide our student-athletes the opportunity of a fall football season. Our football team, our coaching staff, our support staff in Schembechler Hall have all stepped up, followed every rule, and done everything in their power magnificently to give all the opportunity to compete. I am extremely proud, thankful and appreciative of our team and how they have conducted and represented our program and university.”
So far, the response from Schlissel regarding the B1G’s decision has been minimal. On the same day the announcement was made, he released a general statement agreeing with the conference’s direction, saying “there are currently too many challenges of preventing spread of infection among our student-athletes and coaches.”
Maybe there would be some validity to those words if Michigan’s plan to safely allow students to return to campus for in-person classes during the fall semester wasn’t pinned to the top Schlissel’s Twitter account. It’s a virtual slap-in-the-face to student-athletes, parents and coaches.
Perhaps if Schlissel reached out to those closest to the situation he would’ve gathered important feedback. After all, there are some pretty intelligent individuals upset by the league’s decision.
Former Michigan All-American Chris Hutchinson, currently an emergency room doctor and father of current defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson, weighed in on the situation while joining 97.1 The Ticket.
“I don’t believe that the decision they made was primarily based on player safety. I firmly believe that risk tolerance was the bigger issue,” Hutchinson said. “Not risk of getting student-athletes sick, but the risk of being sued. Let’s be honest here. … Because there was no additional information out. They just got together and realized that they might be sued by someone who has long-term complications. That’s my personal belief. Because from a medical standpoint, that decision was not ready to be made yet.”
Interestingly enough, Hutchinson wasn’t the only medical professional who says that the B1G may have jumped the gun. UM cardiologist Dr. Venkatesh Murthy took to Twitter, claiming the conference used a flawed report to help guide its decision on fall sports.
“The B1G report on COVID relies heavily on this paper which found rampant abnormalities among normal controls and had man statistic that make no sense,” Murthy wrote. “Time to retract this paper.
“[To be honest] I’m not a football guy so whether they put off a year doesn’t really affect me, but the B1G is a majorly respected organization and many Americans get their news from ESPN. Unfortunately, much of the messaging center around a flawed paper.”
For those keeping track at home: players, coaches, a parent in the medical field and a university cardiologist all believe the B1G made a rash decision. And yet, the only thing in response from Schlissel’s office has been the echoing sound of a chirping field cricket hiding behind the water cooler.
Hard to imagine why there’s so much built-up frustration, isn’t it?
It seems pretty obvious who voted in favor of pushing the start of the fall football season to late-September, rather than squashing the model entirely.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he and incoming president Kristina Johnson were aligned on voting for a delay. The University of Nebraska released a joint statement that included head coach Scott Frost, AD Bill Moos, chancellor Ronnie Green and president Ted Carter saying it would continue to look for opportunities to play in the fall. It was reported by 247Sports that Iowa AD Gary Barta and president Bruce Harreld “fought like hell” to keep the option for fall football alive.
Similar sentiments haven’t been shared out of Michigan. And, believe it or not, that’s fine. If Schlissel truly believes that right now is not the best time to move forward with fall sports, it’s a completely understandable thought. These are unprecedented times. A “right answer” doesn’t really exist.
What’s not appropriate, however, is the lack of leadership and communication he’s displayed over the past week. It’s past time Schlissel start providing some answers. Not a blanket statement or generic responses, real answers.
A lot of times, the “silence is golden” adage applies. But in Ann Arbor, right now, it’s nothing more than cowardice.