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'Let's play football': Jim Harbaugh, Michigan welcome Big Ten season's reinstatement

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who earlier this month said his team would be “ready to play” if and when the Big Ten decided to reinstate the fall season, will get that chance to prove it.

Harbaugh expressed his support of the Big Ten’s announcement Wednesday morning that football will kick off Oct. 23-24. The Big Ten had postponed the season on Aug. 11, less than a week after releasing a schedule. An eight-game schedule with a “championship week” will be released later this week, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alavarez said in a video news conference.

Jim Harbaugh

“Great news today,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “Over the past month, I could sense the anticipation from our players and coaches, and I’m thrilled on their behalf that they will have a chance to play a 2020 season. Stay positive. Test negative. Let’s play football.”

Fans will not be permitted to attend games at Michigan Stadium because of state public health limitations, the athletic department told its season-ticket holders in an email Wednesday.

“Safety regulations will continue to be evaluated by campus leadership in conjunction with medical experts and state/local government officials,” the email reads. “We will communicate any changes as they get determined. Thank you for your continued support as a football season ticket holder. We will provide more information as it becomes available.”

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, who announced he had to cut 21 jobs on top of 15 unfilled positions and projected a $100 million budget hit without football this fall, praised the work done to start the season.

“I'm happy that (UM) President (Mark) Schlissel and the Big Ten Conference presidents voted to allow members to move forward with a return to football,” Manuel said in a statement. “The health and safety of our student-athletes have always been primary in the discussion and the decisions. I want to thank (Big Ten) commissioner (Kevin) Warren, the medical professionals of the Big Ten, and my fellow athletic directors for all the work that has been done over the past few months to arrive at this point.

“Coach Harbaugh and our student-athletes have been great throughout this process. They have remained diligent in following the protocols and preparing to have this opportunity to play this season. I also want to thank our coaches and staff, our student-athletes, their families and our fans for their collective patience. I look forward to watching our teams compete this fall and beyond.”

Schlissel, who has drawn criticism during the Big Ten football process — he was among the 11 presidents who voted for the postponement — shared his support of the decision in a statement Wednesday.

“I join athletic director Warde Manuel and everyone at Michigan athletics in offering appreciation for all the athletes and coaches, the fans and the families who have been preparing for the possibility of playing in the Big House this fall.

“Earlier I expressed my concern, shared by my fellow Big Ten presidents and chancellors, that we just didn’t know enough about the health and safety concerns unique to intercollegiate athletics to move forward with practices and competition.

“As has been so true during this pandemic, we continue to learn more every day and we have adjusted our approach based on the new information that was developed. I especially want to thank the health and safety officials from the Big Ten campuses who have carefully assessed the risk and developed a stringent plan — that will include daily COVID-19 testing — to mitigate those risks for our student-athletes, coaches and others. While this approach will start with football, our hope is to use this same approach to resume competition in other sports.

Michigan’s football team has not stopped practicing and Harbaugh has shared how happy he’s been with his players remaining vigilant in terms of health and safety protocols.

“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 Sept. 5 during a parent-led protest. “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.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis