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'Held hostage by Big Ten': Michigan parents want answers as sons' futures hang in balance

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan parents who have spearheaded an effort to apply pressure on Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and university president Mark Schlissel for concrete evidence why the league canceled football this fall remain frustrated and feel stonewalled.

Peach Pagano, mother of Carlo Kemp, a fifth-year Michigan senior and a captain; Lisa McCaffrey, mother of quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, who has two years of eligibility remaining at Michigan (she also has son, Luke, a quarterback at Nebraska); and Melissa and Chris Hutchinson, parents of junior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, joined The Detroit News’ “View from the Press Box” podcast to discuss why they want transparency from the Big Ten.

Aidan Hutchinson

While Warren said the decision was made for the health and safety of the fall athletes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has shed no light on the decision-making process and how the final call was made. Parents from a handful of Big Ten schools, including Michigan, have sent letters to the Big Ten urging transparency, and Michigan’s parents have demanded a reversal of the decision. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields launched an on-line #WeWanttoPlay petition on Sunday that is nearing 300,000 signatures, and, the Michigan parents said their sons and teammates all added their names to Fields’ effort. One OSU parent, Shaun Wade, is planning to be in suburban Chicago at the Big Ten office on Friday to try to speak to Warren in person.

Pagano, McCaffrey and the Hutchinsons shared insights during the podcast into how their sons have accepted the loss of the fall season and how they are managing their emotions knowing that as of now, three conferences, including the SEC, are forging on to play this fall. The parents also expressed resounding doubt there will be a spring season, which reportedly is being explored by the Big Ten.

Chris Hutchinson, a Michigan captain and All-American in 1992 also is an emergency room physician at Beaumont Royal Oak and has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has treated more than 1,000 COVID patients and he has always said he felt comfortable with his son playing football this fall.

More: Clock is running out on college athletics' 'indentured servitude' system

“I’m a physician, I know how to interpret this data, so I’m interested to see what data I haven’t seen that they think is so damning that they can’t go on with the season,” Chris Hutchinson, said referring to those who decided to cancel the season. “I’ll be honest, I don’t think it will be there. I think it’s gonna be, ‘We’re trying to protect our legal interests,’ to be honest with you. I don’t think there was overwhelming medical concerns. I think there’s a lot of unknowns (with COVID), but these unknowns are clearly going to be very small. I’m a physician and my kid plays. I’m great with it.”

The parents are baffled by the lack of answers from the Big Ten commissioner.

“It’s amazing to me there’s still this silence,” Hutchinson said.

They said their sons were shocked when the decision to cancel was made less than a week after Warren released a 10-game schedule that would have kicked off Labor Day weekend.

So what’s next? The Big Ten apparently is looking to structure a spring season and also play in the fall of 2021, but there are no guarantees the league will play in the spring. This means that upperclassmen face decisions about their playing futures.

Already, Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield, who started last season at right tackle and was expected to have a big year this fall, has declared for the NFL. Aidan Hutchinson, a junior defensive end, was hoping to build his football resume this season playing on a line that also features NFL-destined end Kwity Paye. Chris Hutchinson said every option is on the table for his son, who may have left after this season for the NFL, as well.

“There’s a good possibility we could be in the same exact position one year from now, and I don’t trust the Big Ten to do the right thing,” Chris Hutchinson said. “That’s my biggest concern. I love Michigan, but I don’t love Michigan that much to sacrifice two years of my son’s growth to be held hostage by the Big Ten because a lot of the (medical) experts think we’re going to have this low level of COVID around for a few years.

“The experts say that the vaccine, while it could be out early 2021, it’s not going to be available for the kids, for the healthy people maybe not until the end of the year and that end of the year is 2021. There’s a good possibility if the Big Ten doesn’t have a change of heart we could have two fall seasons canceled and quite honest, I would totally support Aidan if he needed to go somewhere else to get the exposure he needed. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but we need to have every option on the table because they’ve done a disservice to the athletes.”

Dylan McCaffrey

McCaffrey said her son Dylan, “would never in a million years want to transfer,” but knows how much players like Kemp and Hutchinson needed this pivotal season for their playing futures. Her husband, Ed McCaffrey, was a long-time NFL player and her son, Christian, plays for the Carolina Panthers.

“Those kids who need this season to get looked at by the NFL, that loss of value is millions of dollars to these kids,” McCaffrey said. “That’s life-altering and changing for some of these families. They don’t seem to understand any of that. Football is a business. And they just killed some of the kids’ futures with this. They just don’t seem to care.”

More: Stay or go? These Michigan football players have big decisions to make

Pagano said her son, Carlo, returned for another season because he wanted to be with his teammates. That hasn’t changed.

“Carlo wants to play,” she said. “He’s a Wolverine through and through. He’s worked his butt off to get where he’s at. Blood, sweat and tears to get to this place, and he loves those guys. That D-line is phenomenal, and they’ve bonded, they’ve come together. He wants to play. He ain’t looking much farther.”

McCaffrey said her sons are trying to organize pick-up games involving players from the different conference teams, maybe playing them at local high schools. Not for fans, or media coverage, just “play for fun.” In the interim, the parents will keep pressing for transparency.

“It would help them all if they could just get some answers,” McCaffrey said of the players. “Maybe they’d come to the conclusion, ‘OK, this is the right decision.’”

Carlo Kemp spoke to local reporters Wednesday and said he supports the efforts by the parents.

“I totally back my mom because I know she backs me, and she’s using her voice to speak for how we feel,” Kemp said. “It’s awesome to see that you have that support and the love and bond you have between your family. It’s awesome to see my mom and some of these other parents really just push forward and try to get answers, because I think a lot of us right now, I know this is how I feel, we’re kind of in limbo, like, the season was canceled but there (has) been no explanation, no talk, no discussion about it. It’s a huge decision.

“This isn’t just guys playing football. This is guys’ lives, this is guys’ passions. There’s coaches; this is their jobs. This is how guys want to change their lives and how people want to change their family’s history. It’s a lot bigger than just guys playing football. This is some people’s last opportunity to ever be able to put on pads. I think what the parents are doing -- we’re just trying to get clarification. We last week heard it was canceled and there hasn’t been discussion, no why this is where we’re at, this is what we see. I support the parents and what they’re doing because they’re trying to get answers."