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East Lansing, Ann Arbor mayors to Big Ten: Help keep our communities safe

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Eleven of 14 mayors from Big Ten cities have co-signed a letter to the conference, pleading that it consider the communities at-large in moving forward with the football season, starting this weekend.

The mayors, including East Lansing's Aaron Stephens and Ann Arbor's Christopher Taylor, sent the letter to the Big Ten offices Monday, after several of the mayors met virtually last Friday to discuss their collective concerns.

Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor

"During these unprecedented times, we must come together to share ideas, come up with creative solutions and make sure our communities stay safe and healthy," the mayors wrote in the two-page letter. "The COVID-19 crisis continues to present challenges in our communities.

"While we are all excited for football games to begin, we must accept that this activity poses potential new obstacles as we attempt to slow the spread of this virus."

Among the requests from the mayors to the Big Ten:

►Consider the entire community's COVID-19 positivity rate when determining whether to play a football game, and not just the football teams. The Big Ten, as part of its decision to play the fall season after initially postponing until the spring, says a team must shut down for the week if the positivity rate among its program is greater than 5%.

"We ask that you work with local and county health officials in these communities to define a population positivity rate, where hosting a football game that would bring increased activity into the community is no longer safe to do," the letter said.

►Schedule as many games as possible for earlier in the day, and as few night games as possible. This decision isn't entirely up to the Big Ten, but rather is a TV call. Mayors believe earlier games will limit the community activity, and could help slow the spread.

"These start times are associated with increased activity," the letter said.

Stephens, the East Lansing mayor, said the idea of getting all Big Ten mayors into the discussion began a couple weeks ago during a call with the governor's office. It was suggested that the Big Ten mayors start talking to each other, with health officials.

Nine mayors' offices were represented on Friday's call, he said, with 11 signing the letter. Among them, besides Stephens and Taylor: Madison's Satya Rhodes-Conway, College Park's Patrick Wojahn, State College's Ronald Filippelli, Evanston's Steve Hagerty, West Lafayette's John Dennis, Minneapolis' Jacob Frey, Bloomington's John Hamilton, Columbus' Andrew Ginther and Iowa City's Bruce Teague. Lansing mayor Andy Schor also signed the letter.

Mayors from Lincoln (Nebraska), Champaign (Illinois) and Piscataway, N.J. (Rutgers), didn't sign the letter.

While no fans will be allowed at Big Ten games, and no tailgating will be allowed, either, college town businesses stand to recoup some significant dollars that have been lost during the various COVID-19 shutdowns. That's a good thing, Stephens said.

"It's a really big thing," he said. "Folks have been cooped up. This gives them something to root for. ...At the same time, it does increase the amount of activity that you see, especially in college towns.

"It might not be the best situation."

Taylor, the Ann Arbor mayor, didn't immediately return a message for comment.

East Lansing and Michigan State and Ann Arbor and Michigan have been two of the hardest-hit regions in the state in recent weeks, with Washtenaw County on Tuesday ordering a two-week stay-home order for all Michigan students, though football will proceed as scheduled. The two rivals are set to play Oct. 31 in Ann Arbor.

Michigan opens the season Saturday at Minnesota while Michigan State hosts Rutgers.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984