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Jim Harbaugh joins Michigan football march, says starting season in October a possibility

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said all the Big Ten coaches want to play football this fall, and although he has not been in direct communication with university president Mark Schlissel, he believes starting the season at some point in October is a possibility.

Harbaugh and his players would have opened the season Saturday, originally at Washington in Seattle, and then at home against Purdue in the revised, conference-only 10-game schedule. Instead, he participated Saturday in a “#WeWanttoPlay” protest organized by players’ parents that began outside the Michigan Stadium tunnel, before marching on State Street and into the Diag on campus.

UM head coach Jim Harbaugh marches in the rally with the players and parents along Hoover Street in Ann Arbor.

“Would have rather been coming to a game than a rally, but it definitely hits you we should have been playing a game today,” Harbaugh said while walking with the group that included players like Carlo Kemp, Aidan Hutchinson, Dylan McCaffrey, Chuck Filiaga, Chris Evans, and Jess Speight.

Less than a week after releasing the 10-game schedule, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren announced on Aug. 11 that fall sports, including football, were postponed because of lingering health and safety concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pac-12 also postponed fall sports that day while the three other major conferences, the SEC, Big 12 and ACC, are preparing to play this month.

Harbaugh and the Big Ten coaches continue to meet regularly, and he said they’re all in agreement they want to play. Harbaugh was asked what answers he might want from the Big Ten.

“Free the Big Ten like my brother (Baltimore Ravens coach) John Harbaugh said (this week),” Harbaugh said. “Says it all. We want to be free to play.”

Parent groups from around the Big Ten, including Michigan, have been vocal, writing letters to Warren demanding transparency on why the decision to postpone was made. The Michigan parents also requested a reversal of the decision as well as meetings with Warren and Schlissel, the university president. Nebraska players have filed a lawsuit against the Big Ten and noted college sports attorney Tom Mars has filed open-records requests with the 13 public schools in the Big Ten on behalf of the parents seeking some clarity on the decision-making process. 

Harbaugh was asked Saturday if he’s had any conversations with Schlissel.

“I have had none. We’ve texted," he said. "(Athletic director) Warde Manuel’s done all the conversations with president Schlissel.”

Michigan football has had rigid protocols for the players, who continue to go through voluntary practices four days a week. In August, there were 822 COVID-19 tests of the football players with zero positive results. Harbaugh said Saturday that the most recent 120 tests returned all negative.

Harbaugh said he has texted and emailed Schlissel the results.

“He’s aware,” Harbaugh said of the university president.

The players have been vigilant in terms of following protocols.

“Everybody’s realized how important it is,” Harbaugh said. “Collectively and individually, everybody’s taken upon themselves they want to be healthy and they want to be able to play. That’s the driving factor is you want to play. You discipline yourself more. Football has a tendency to do that, and all sports really do.”

Harbaugh told his players before a practice last Wednesday that playing in October is a possibility. He said that’s something he has been hearing.

“That we could possibly, that maybe there’s a chance we could be playing sometime in October, early October, there’s a chance of that,” Harbaugh said.

There has also been speculation of a November start or even Jan. 1.

“Our position with the Big Ten to everybody has been, we want to play as soon as we possibly can, and we’re ready to play,” Harbaugh said. We could be ready to play a game in two weeks. Just get the pads on. Our guys have trained without a pause since June 15. That’s our position. We’re ready to play as soon as we possibly can play.”