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Play or postpone? Players, coaches weigh in as Big Ten football season nears postponement

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

With the Big Ten on the verge of calling it quits on the 2020 football season, players around the country are taking to social media to have their voices heard while their coaches have been offering their own support of the college football season playing out.

Late Sunday night, a group of players led by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, issued their desire to play this season, using the hash tags #WEAREUNITED and #WEWANTTOPLAY. Those feelings were echoed by a handful of coaches on Monday, including Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, Ohio State's Ryan Day and Penn State's James Franklin.

Connor Heyward

“Our medical protocol is the standard,” Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis posted, using the hash tag #WEWANTTOCOACH. “The environment we provide is the safest environment physically, mentally, and emotionally for our players! We don’t just coach, We sacrifice, We raise, We protect, and We serve for these young men opportunities of their life!”

Gattis' post came hours before Harbaugh issued a statement saying he supported playing this season because the COVID-19 virus “can be controlled and handled” because of a number of facts he shared in a statement. Highlighted in that statement was the fact Michigan has had 11 positive tests out of 893 administered, including three upon initial return to campus. It has also had zero positives tests among the coaches or staff as well as no pauses in training.

Other coaches indicated they were also working hard to save the season. Day posted on Twitter, saying, "Swinging as hard as we possibly can right now for these players!! This isn’t over! #FIGHT." 

Added Franklin, "I love our players & believe it is my responsibility to help them chase their dreams, both collectively & individually. I am willing to fight WITH them & for our program!"

Nebraska coach Scott Frost told reporters after the Cornhuskers completed practice that his university is committed to playing and could seek to play on its own.

"Our University is committed to playing no matter what, no matter what that looks like and how that looks," Frost said. "We want to play no matter who it is or where it is.

"The head coach’s responsibility is to fight for what we want. Our players want to play. Our coaches want to coach."

The response from the coaches came as players were speaking out on both sides of the issue.

Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds, who last week helped organize a unity statement from players in the Big Ten, was among the group of players involved with Lawrence that came together late Sunday night.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn't too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote," Reynolds told the Associated Press. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I'm pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

However, it became clear Monday morning that not every player is on board, at least not in the Big Ten.

Michigan State running back Connor Heyward posted twice, pointing out that he will play if there is a season but also wondered about the motives of some of those tweeting out wanting to play.

“All these players tweeting #WeWantToPlay gonna be the same ones complaining if they get Covid and something happen to them. Just being real,” Heyward wrote. “… & if we have a season, I’m playing. I’m just saying know what you’re getting yourself into and don’t be all mad if you get it.”

His post was retweeted by Indiana freshman Brady Feeney, who contracted COVID-19 and has endured multiple health issues since, including heart problems.

“Covid-19 is serious,” Feeney said. “I never thought that I would have serious health complications from this virus, but look at what happened. … We need to listen to our medical experts.”

Heyward’s teammate, defensive lineman DeAri Todd, also said he was focused more on his health than football.

“I aspire to possibly be a professional NFL player,” Todd said, “but I also aspire to be a great father, husband, and brother. It’s bigger than football at this point.”

Michigan State, which began preseason camp on Friday, has had four players opt out of the 2020 season — defensive end Jacub Panasiuk, offensive lineman Jordan Reid, linebacker Marcel Lewis and offensive lineman Justin Stevens.

The Spartans were also scheduled to practice on Monday and take Tuesday off. However, that off day was switched to Monday with players only reviewing film.

It all comes as college football grapples with how to react to COVID-19. On Saturday, the Mid-American Conference canceled its season, becoming the first FBS conference to do so.

By late Saturday, signs were pointing toward the Big Ten following suit. Sources told The News the Big Ten was set to cancel the season, with an official announcement possible on Tuesday. According to a report from Dan Patrick, the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors voted on Sunday night, with 12 schools opting to shut the season down with Nebraska and Iowa choosing to play.

Reports also said the Pac-12 was likely to make the same move. It left the other members of the Power Five — the SEC, Big 12 and ACC — waiting to make a call on their seasons, though there was no indication any of those conferences was close to making a decision.

On Saturday, sources at Michigan and Michigan State indicated to The Detroit News there was growing sentiment that the fall football season will be postponed because of health and safety factors for players and coaches because of the COVID-19 pandemic that suspended on-campus activities across the country in mid-March.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren apparently would prefer to move the football season to the spring, according to sources who spoke to The Detroit News on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the topic.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau