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UM cancels Maryland game, hopes to play Ohio State; Manuel fires back at Herbstreit

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, visibly angry, bristled at the suggestion the Wolverines, who have canceled their game Saturday against Maryland because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the program, would purposefully use the pandemic as an excuse not to play arch-rival Ohio State in next week's regular-season finale.

Michigan is 2-4 and paused on-field football activities Monday before announcing the cancellation Wednesday of the upcoming game. The Wolverines are scheduled to face unbeaten Ohio State on Dec. 12, but if they don’t play, the Buckeyes would be under the six-game threshold to qualify for the Big Ten title game unless the rules are tweaked (which they could be, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told The News).

Michigan players take a knee after warmups before last week's Penn State game.

Manuel's reaction during a brief video posted by on Wednesday, were in response to ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who suggested Tuesday night on the College Football Playoff rankings show that Michigan could intentionally opt out of playing OSU to jeopardize the Buckeyes' postseason goals. Herbstreiti, a former OSU quarterback, apologized to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and his players in a video he posted to his Twitter account Tuesday night.

“I still think Michigan waves the white flag and potentially avoids playing Ohio State next week and then they’ll potentially get a game on the 19th,” Herbstreit said during the show. “Michigan could opt out basically of that game and keep Ohio State out of six games to qualify for the Big Ten championship. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Manuel took exception to Herbstreit’s comments when asked his reaction.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Manuel said, before a long pause. “I have to pause because my words, the anger, I was infuriated by the insinuation that Michigan would do anything other than play a football game. We have been playing this game since 1879, and we’re the winningest program for a reason, because we play whoever’s in front of us.

“The only way we want to keep anybody from moving on is to beat them on the field of play. And to insinuate that and to say something other than that, is a statement by a fool and it is something I can’t tell you how embarrassed I am for the Big Ten Conference to have one of their representatives who played this game to say that about any team in this conference and to say it about college football and the student-athletes around this country who are trying to play games during a pandemic is ridiculous and sad.”

Herbstreit did apologize in the video on Twitter.

“Made some comments about Michigan, about the potential of them waving the white flag and intentionally trying to avoid playing Ohio State by just saying, ‘Hey, we have too many cases, and we’re gonna opt out,'" Herbstreit said. “I had no business at all saying that. I have no evidence of that. It was completely unfair to the University of Michigan, to Jim Harbaugh, to his players and coaches. I just wanted to apologize.”

This is the first game the Wolverines have missed during this abbreviated eight-game Big Ten-only season that will have a ninth crossover bonus game.

Manuel said the decision was made after consulting with team physicians.

He said during the video that they are waiting on “over 100 tests” to be analyzed by the medical staff.

Manuel said they remain hopeful the Wolverines will be able to play at Ohio State, which canceled its own game last week but plans to play Michigan State on Saturday.

“It is disheartening that we are not going to be able to play Maryland and our hope is that we can play Ohio State and finish the season in the final week,” he said.

The earliest Michigan can return to practice is Monday, according to a release from the football program.

The Wolverines paused in-person football activities Monday and have not resumed because of COVID-19 issues. On Monday, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said “out of an abundance of caution” football paused because of an increased number of presumptive positives were awaiting confirmation.

The Wolverines (2-4) were part of a small group that had played every game this year, along with Penn State, Rutgers, Indiana and Iowa. Northwestern had played all its games but it’s matchup with Minnesota on Saturday has been canceled.

Harbaugh participated in a #WeWanttoPlay protest organized in Ann Arbor by Michigan football parents on Sept. 5, the day Michigan was supposed to open the first Big Ten-only 10-game schedule. The Big Ten reinstated the season later that month, eight games with a one-game cross-over at the end of the season, and began play Oct. 24.

Despite the number of game cancellations across the Big Ten, Michigan’s stiff testing protocols and adjusting practices when players have to miss a day here or there because of contact tracing, Harbaugh said he has no regrets about having this season.

“I believe it has been worth it,” Harbaugh said Monday. “There are challenges in football, there are challenges in life. Responding and rising up to that challenge is something I believe in very strongly. That’s how I feel about it.”

Twitter: @chengelis