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Michigan football parents demand reversal of Big Ten decision in letter to Schlissel, Warren

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Angry and disappointed Michigan football parents have galvanized and written a strongly worded letter to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel demanding a reversal of the cancellation of the 2020 football season.

That is the final of five requests from the Michigan parents, who also want video meetings with Warren and Schlissel to discuss the vote and rationale behind the decision to cancel. Warren said the decision ultimately was about the health and well-being of the athletes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jim Harbaugh

The letter, shared on social media Monday on a newly created Twitter page called Wolverine Football Parents (@WolverineFamily), is the latest of similarly worded messages from football parents around the conference to the Big Ten commissioner and university presidents and chancellors who last Tuesday canceled the 2020 season. That announcement was made just days after Warren released a conference-only 10-game schedule set to kick off Labor Day weekend.

“We felt like we needed to contribute to the conversation that had already preceded us as the other teams’ families had put those (letters) out," Chris Hutchinson, a 1992 Michigan All-American and captain and father of current player Aidan Hutchinson, told The Detroit News. "We thought it was a big enough issue that we need to spend our time as Michigan football parents to get together and make sure this is what we wanted and make our proper voice heard and let the people who made decision without consulting us that we don’t think that was right, and we want a voice.

"This is our small way to try to be heard. Hopefully this doesn’t ever happen again, but hopefully we can have some meaningful  discussion, because right now there’s been no discussion."

Requests for comment from Schlissel and the Big Ten office were not returned to The News on Monday.

Hutchinson, an emergency room physician at Royal Oak Beaumont where he has treated more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients, said more than 75 Michigan football families had signed off on the letter and that number was increasing as of Monday afternoon.

Iowa parents delivered a letter to the conference office Friday, Ohio State and Penn State parents publicly released their letters on Saturday and Nebraska parents posted a letter to social media Sunday.

But Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields put his star power behind the movement Sunday when he posted a #WeWanttoPlay petition addressed to Warren, Big Ten presidents and athletic directors. “This cause is close to my heart – please sign,” Fields wrote. Twenty four hours later, the petition had more than 230,000 signatures.

Michigan football parents in the later praised Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff for maintaining contact with the parents since on-campus activities were suspended in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They said they are “well-versed in the protocols” established in the football program.

More: 'We will not cower from it': Jim Harbaugh uses data to support claim that football should be played

“More importantly, we have complete trust in our sons and their ability to determine what is best for them,” the letter reads. “Therefore, we overwhelmingly support their decisions to play or opt out this fall. As football players, they understand risk. As young men, they understand the consequences of their decisions. They are able to balance potential risk with reward. We believe that our boys participating in Michigan football this fall is the best possible environment during these uncertain times.

“We strongly believe that denying these players the opportunity to compete this season would jeopardize their futures. They deserve the opportunity to play.”

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel

The Michigan football families in this letter also said they support the letters written by families from players at other Big Ten schools. 

"We feel that the decision to cancel the 2020 season was premature," the letter reads. "We also believe the Big Ten and University Presidents failed to exercise due diligence by not acquiring the input of the very student athletes their decisions would impact."

The Michigan football families listed their requests of Warren and Schlissel, concluding with the reversal of the season cancellation.

They also want:

►A video meeting with the Big Ten commissioner to discuss the Big Ten’s rationale.

►A video meeting with Schlissel to discuss the rationale of voting against playing when safety protocol was proving to be effective.

►A detailed description of the critical facts that were used to cancel the season.

►A detailed description of standard protocols and safety practice for all Big Ten teams.

►A reversal of the cancellation of the 2020 10-game season.

It was signed: The University of Michigan Football Families.

Hutchinson doubts Big Ten families will be able to get the conference to reverse course. But they still want answers.

"You’d like to hear a detailed description, but the problem with that is, it’s all interpretation," Hutchinson said. "Everybody has got the same data, it’s whatever your personal preference is. If you have a low risk-tolerance, then you’re going to say, ‘We don’t really know about myocarditis, and the testing might be a problem and we’re really not sure what’s going to happen when you get close contact, so that’s too much for me.’ And other people are like, ‘I don’t know, it’s what I’ve anticipated the whole time.’”

Shortly after the Big Ten announced its plans to cancel the 2020 season and turn its focus to potentially playing in the spring, the Pac-12 also canceled its season but provided to the public the medical data and research that informed the conference leaders’ decision. The Big Ten did not provide any documentation.

The remaining three conferences among the Power Five are pressing forward toward a season this fall. In fact, the Southeastern Conference is releasing its football schedule Monday.

Warren, who said when the Big Ten schedule was released that was not a guarantee there would be a season, said the Big Ten’s decision was focused on the health and well-being of the athletes this fall. Research, including data regarding myocarditis, a heart condition linked to COVID-19, reportedly played a significant role in the decision not to proceed with fall sports.

“This was going to be a day-to-day situation,” Warren said on BTN after the announcement. “And we were in a perpetual state of observing, gathering information and doing everything we could to have fall sports.”

Through the weekend, as these letters from families in the Big Ten rolled in and as Fields’ petition gained steam, the spotlight remained on Warren, who offered very little detail in his post-announcement BTN interview. Aside from parents pointing out the fact Warren’s son is a football player at Mississippi State, a team in the SEC that is still forging ahead, there has been considerable criticism for making the decision this early.

Several mothers of Michigan football players spoke to The Detroit News last week, including Peach Pagano, mother of Michigan captain Carlo Kemp; and Lisa McCaffrey, mother of Dylan, a quarterback at Michigan, and Luke, a quarterback at Nebraska. Pagano posted a message to Twitter on Tuesday after the decision and McCaffrey and husband, Ed, shared a letter last Monday night saying they supported their children and “their right to play.”

They believed the Big Ten could have started the season and then made a determination.

Carlo Kemp

“I can’t believe we are here,” Pagano told The News last Wednesday. “I can’t believe that this happened, honestly, that they wouldn’t even give us a shot to get through game one. In my mind, I’m like, ‘Let’s just get one game under our belt.'

“Even two games. I’m not scared that my son’s going to die from it. I know we’re too healthy, our mindsets, and the way we believe. But oh my God, they didn’t even give us a chance. And then this – other schools are still going. I can’t process it properly. If it was for the greater good, they would cancel campuses. But they canceled football?”

Over the weekend, news broke regarding a potentially ground-breaking saliva-based laboratory diagnostic test developed by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health to determine whether someone is infected with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Parents in the Big Ten, including at Michigan, had said there was no need for the Big Ten to rush to a decision. Some had suggested delaying the start of the season, that advancements like the saliva testing were quickly happening.

More: Wojo: Big Ten football in trouble if other conferences play on

"That’s what make their decision look even worse," said Hutchinson, who believes the Big Ten should have waited. "Everybody keeps saying it was a premature or a hasty decision, and this is case in point. Four days later, you get this breaking news that the FDA had emergency release of this test, which could be ground breaking.

"If you would have just held your water, you could have had additional information which may have changed your mind. But now, because you already showed your hand, you’re probably going to be less apt to change."

Fields, in the petition, referred to “we” as the football players of the Big Ten, along with fans and college football supporters and said they “request that the Big Ten Conference immediately reinstate the 2020 football season.”

“Allow Big Ten players/teams to make their own choice as to whether they wish to play or opt out this fall season,” he wrote. “Allow Big Ten players/teams who choose to opt out of playing a fall season to do so without penalty or repercussion.

“We believe that safety protocols have been established and can be maintained to mitigate concerns of exposure to COVID-19. We believe that we should have the right to make decisions about what is best for our health and our future. Don’t let our hard work and sacrifice be in vain. #LetUsPlay!”

Could the players and their families take legal action? Potentially. According to a Sports Illustrated story Saturday, lawyer Tom Mars, familiar to Michigan fans after he successfully secured immediate eligibility for two-year quarterback starter Shea Patterson in 2018, said he was contacted by the parents of several Big Ten players seeking help to find a way to play immediately.

Mars then wrote a two-page document, “Action Plan to Mitigate Concerns and Legal Risks of Playing Fall 2020 Football.” The first step would be to get the NCAA ban of liability waivers overturned. If that were to happen, lawyers could then draft liability waivers that essentially would prevent players and parents the ability to sue the school if their son contracted COVID-19.

In the sign-off to the letter submitted by the “concerned parents of 81 (Nebraska) football players,” they said their sons are willing to assume the risks.

“We do not want to make light of the seriousness of this terrible disease, but it is not going away,” they wrote. “Our sons are willing to assume this risk and commit to mitigating risks this fall. There are no guarantees these risks will be gone by the spring season.”

The Michigan families shared a similar opinion in their letter.

"We have complete trust in the coaching and medical staff of the University of Michigan," they wrote.

Twitter: @chengelis