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Michigan players 'vent' over missed season opener, vow they're ready to play nonetheless

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – Typically, the Michigan team buses would have pulled up just outside the Michigan Stadium tunnel on Saturday, players and coaches would have disembarked and headed into the locker room to prepare for the season opener.

Instead, many of the players attended a “#WeWanttoPlay” protest organized by players' parents, who were joined by around 160 people, including teammates, parents, fans, and head coach Jim Harbaugh to demand transparency from the Big Ten and a start to the season. The Big Ten decided on Aug. 11 to postpone fall sports, including football because of lingering health and safety issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michigan QB Dylan McCaffrey speaks during the rally at the Diag about the lost football season.

Michigan was originally scheduled to open the season today at Washington, then the Big Ten announced a conference-only 10-game schedule and the Wolverines would have played Purdue at Michigan Stadium to open the season.

“We were talking about it on the way over (as) we walked over here,” defensive lineman Jess Speight said. “It was kinda sad. We were supposed to be in Washington, then we were supposed to have Purdue here. It was just kinda weird. Today would have been the day, the buses would have pulled around the corner, we would have seen the parking lot full of people, and it was weird seeing it completely empty aside from obviously these people that are here.”

Quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, whose parents, Lisa and Ed, flew in from Colorado to attend the protest, said he wants people to know the decision not to play was not the players’ choice. McCaffrey said they were there to “vent” and said all the Michigan players support playing.

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“The decision all came out, it seemed from our point of view, a little shady,” McCaffrey said. “We didn’t hear anything. We were getting our information from Twitter, and we’re the ones it’s directly affecting, unfortunately. We just realized the decisions are made by a lot of people it doesn’t directly affect. We want to know exactly who was involved, who voted against it. We’d love to be able talk to them and share our point of view as well, which we feel we were not able to share at all.”

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren announced the decision to postpone based on what he said was overwhelming support from the university presidents. Since then, parent groups around the Big Ten have challenged Warren for transparency regarding the decision, and several Nebraska players have filed suit against the Big Ten.

“A lot of those guys mean well but don’t necessarily know how important this is to us and the fact that we’ve worked so hard our entire lives,” McCaffrey said, referring to the decision-makers. “A lot of us have waited four years now for an opportunity to play this season, and to have that stripped from us is very personal. Us older players, it’s definitely very personal.”

Harbaugh said Saturday that of the 120 most recent COVID-19 tests, all returned negative. That’s on top of the 822 taken in August that also were negative.

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“We're all adhering to the protocols, we're all wearing masks, and we're all doing what we have to do to get this thing reinstated,” Hutchinson said at the protest, later adding nothing changes in terms of protocols even though classes have started. “It's the same thing. Don't go out, keep wearing your mask, practice social distancing. All of the same rules apply. Obviously, it gets a little more difficult when more students get here because you add that aspect of it. But I think our guys have been doing a really good job of staying away from other people and kind of social distancing on their own. If the season does get reinstated, we'll be in good.”

Harbaugh said Saturday he did tell his team, which is still going through voluntary practices four days a week, that there’s a chance they could start playing “sometime in early October.”

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“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.”

The players said they won’t need much time in padded practices to get ready for the season. Harbaugh said two weeks. Hutchinson agreed.

“You give me a couple weeks in pads, two weeks, I'm ready to go,” Hutchinson said. “We haven't stopped practicing. So mentally I'm here, just physicality putting the pads on and I'm ready to go.”

McCaffrey said they’re ready to play immediately.

“We could be ready tomorrow, frankly,” he said even not having had padded practices. “If they told us we’ve got a Sunday game we’d be ready tomorrow.

“We’ve been going at it for as long as we can. Mentally, I think our team is sharper than ever, physically we’re probably more in shape than ever because we’ve been training for so long. I was really proud of the whole team the way it came back from quarantine, in shape and ready to go. I’m confident we could be ready tomorrow.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis