Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel was on a conference call with his fellow Big Ten Conference colleagues Friday morning, discussing a variety of issues a day after the league abruptly canceled its men’s basketball tournament and all sports competitions through the rest of the academic year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hours later, the Big Ten also announced that all organized team activities have been suspended as well until at least April 6. But in a WTKA radio interview, Manuel put it much plainer terms.
“We’re not gonna compete in any sport in the Big Ten for the rest of the (school) year,” he said. “We have essentially ended the season for all teams moving forward.”
That’s not a decision that was made lightly, either, he added.
“Ultimately, what is not important right now – as much as I love it – is sports, and bringing people together,” Manuel said. “This is more about our health, our safety, making sure that we slow the spread of this disease down. As much as sports has become in our society … a calming force, a way to bring people together, that is actually the opposite of what we need right now.
“We don’t need people to be brought together, right? Because we want to slow this progression down. And so, therefore, sports can’t do what it normally does for our society. And we have to face that fact, and it’s OK. Sports needs to step up in a way to say, ‘It’s OK, folks, that we’re not together right now.’ What we need is not to be together, to slow it down, social distancing, be with our families but not be together as units. And that’s just where we find ourselves right now with this virus.”
As for where that leaves the athletes at Michigan and elsewhere, Manuel said he was preparing to write a letter to those under his charge in Ann Arbor on Friday.
But he also addressed a proposal that’s gaining attention nationally regarding college athletes in their senior year of eligibility. Prominent coaches, including UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, have spoken up in support of a plan that would allow seniors in sports with canceled seasons to gain an extra year of eligibility. A petition started by an Iowa track athlete, Allison Wahrman, garnered more than 100,000 signatures in 24 hours. And later Friday, the NCAA’s Council Coordination Committee notified member schools that it believes it would be "appropriate to grant relief" for athletes in spring sports.
“Yeah, absolutely I think we should talk about it,” Manuel said. “I actually was thinking about it this morning in terms of a waiver process or an extension, but it is complicated, right? You have basketball teams that have played 90-95 percent of their season or more. Do those seniors get an extra year? Do the spring seasons get an extra year? …
“I think that will be a point of conversation next week at some point with the ADs and the Big Ten as to how we individually and collectively would see any proposal or any approach to the NCAA to provide seniors with some relief or a waiver that would allow them to participate again.”