Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh: No fans in stadium, no problem

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh says he would have no issue playing college football this fall in empty stadiums.

Harbaugh, appearing Wednesday morning on ESPN’s “Get Up!” with host Mike Greenberg, was asked if he would be comfortable with that option. College athletics were suspended in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is unclear across the country whether students will return to campus this fall and whether or how fall sports can be played.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh says he'd be OK with playing college football games in empty stadiums.

During the interview, Harbaugh discussed the potential for COVID-19 testing for players and coaches from both teams and for officials before every game. But having testing available for fans attending Michigan Stadium, the largest stadium in the country with a capacity of 107,601, would likely be problematic.

“You could definitely test both teams, you could test the officials and everybody, but can you test 100,000 fans coming into a stadium?” Harbaugh said. “Probably not. Without a vaccine, you probably couldn’t do that.

“To answer your question, heck yeah I’d be comfortable coaching a game without any fans. If the choice were play in front of no fans or not play, then I would choose to play in front of no fans. And darn near every guy I’ve talked to on our team, that’s the way they feel about it.”

There have been 1.5 million COVID-19 cases and 90,340 deaths in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention data. In Michigan, there have been nearly 52,000 cases and 4,915 deaths.

Harbaugh earlier in the interview mentioned the potential to test all of the participants if there were to be games and how feasible that would be.

“That’s the question on everybody’s mind and thinking you could do that,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh, in an interview Wednesday with Mike Tirico on NBCSN's "Lunch Talk Noon," suggested there could be accommodations made to have some spectators in the stadium.

"Your point of the stadiums being full, I don’t think that will happen," Harbaugh said. "Pretty tough to test 100,000 people or 70,000 people, but there could be some social distancing and a percentage of the fans that could be in there at the game.

"But I think this, when I talk to our players, they’re like, ‘What? Football without fans?’ OK, (so I asked) would you rather play the games with no fans or would you rather not play? And to a man, they want to play even if there’s not fans in the stadium. So let the kids play. Hopefully, well get some more good news as the summer progresses."

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said recently he would find it “unfathomable” to have students playing football games if students are not on campus. Michigan president Mark Schlissel has said the university is working toward having on-campus learning this fall.

“If it’s about the safety of our student-athletes versus filling that stadium, I’d rather it sit empty until we’re in the position to make sure our student-athletes, our coaches and our fans are safe, and their health is primary,” Manuel said. “We’ll figure it out just like everybody is doing on the financial side, but we can’t play games with peoples’ health and safety.”

Tirico mentioned Manuel when asking Harbaugh about the issue of having games if students aren’t on campus. Harbaugh said campuses can be “creative” in terms of having some students on campus and others who would prefer to remain at home with online education.

“It doesn’t have to be all or none to me,” he said. “You could have a percentage. What’s the best percentage to have on campus? Twenty five percent? Fifty percent? But this zero or 100, I don’t think that makes a lot of sense.”

Harbaugh the outdoorsman

Harbaugh told Tirico that he and his family finally used the RV he got last August, and took a driving trip to Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.

Tirico asked if Harbaugh does the driving.

“Oh yeah,” Harbaugh said. “I drive the RV.”

Harbaugh said he can hook up the RV to electricity and water and also has taken care of the unpleasant chore of toilet cleaning.

“I’ve done that, too,” Harbaugh said, laughing. “I feel like a real outdoorsman.”

Working with Howard

During the brief “Get Up!’ interview, co-host Jalen Rose, a member of Michigan’s Fab Five basketball team and former teammate of Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard, asked a few questions about the football players.

“Guys are really taking care of their business. Doing it virtually, staying safe,” Harbaugh said. “Everybody’s healthy and staying safe. I miss the heck out of them. Hopefully we get back and summer brings us some better news.”

He then referenced Howard.

“Juwan has been helping us,” Harbaugh said. “We’re recruiting some football players that also play basketball. We’re getting after it trying to be productive and doing the best we can.”


Twitter: @chengelis