UM stays course on travel for College Football Playoff; committee makes COVID adjustments

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

The Michigan football team and staff are moving forward with their travel and practice plans for the Orange Bowl national semifinal game in South Florida and not altering their schedule as the College Football Playoff committee on Wednesday announced allowances for team travel options.

With growing concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the spread of the omicron variant, the CFP committee has adjusted some protocol for the national semifinals. 

The No. 2 Wolverines plan to arrive in Miami on Dec. 25 in advance of their Dec. 31 final four matchup with No. 3 Georgia. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. No. 1 Alabama will face No. 4 Cincinnati in the other semifinal the same day at the Cotton Bowl at 3:30 p.m.

The CFP is now allowing teams to arrive at the semifinal bowl sites, no later than two days before the game rather than having them stay the customary five days. Michigan is sticking with custom.

"We are planning to remain on our current schedule which gets us to Miami on the evening of Dec. 25," UM spokesman Dave Ablauf said in a text, adding that per a CFP release, all news conferences with players and coaches will be handled virtually. "We will make adjustments as necessary."

With growing concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the spread of the omicron variant, the College Football Playoff committee has adjusted plans for the national semifinals, which affects Michigan and the other three participants.

The Wolverines are scheduled to practice at the Inter Miami soccer training grounds in Fort Lauderdale and use the time to get acclimated to the extreme change in temperature. It was 25 degrees in Ann Arbor on Wednesday and will be in the low 80s upon the team's arrival in Miami.

The changes announced Wednesday by the CFP were based on a recommendation from the group's Management Committee during a video conference Tuesday. 

“As we prepare for the Playoff, it’s wise and necessary to put into place additional precautions to protect those who will play and coach the games,” Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, said in a release Wednesday. “These policies will better protect our students and staffs while providing clarity in the event worst-case scenarios result.”

The announcement of the measures comes in the wake of news that because of a COVID outbreak, Texas A&M is unable to play in the Gator Bowl due to a lack of available players.

The CFP committee also outlined what will happen in the event of teams being unavailable to play.

► If one team in the Cotton and Orange Bowls is unavailable to play, that team must forfeit the game and the opponent advances to the national title game.

► If both teams are unavailable to play in one semifinal, the game would be declared “no contest” and the team winning the other semifinal game would be declared the CFP national champion.

► If three teams are unavailable to play, the semifinal game with two teams unavailable would be declared “no contest.” In the other semifinal game, the team unable to play would have to forfeit and the opponent would be national champion.

► As far as the CFP national championship game, if the team’s unavailability is determined after the semifinals have been played, the national championship game in Indianapolis scheduled for Jan. 10 may be rescheduled to no later than Jan. 14. If one team is able to play and the other is not and the game cannot be rescheduled or is rescheduled and cannot be played, then the team unable to play shall forfeit the game and the other team will be the national champion. If both teams are unable to play on either an original or rescheduled date, then the game shall be declared “no contest” and the CFP National Championship will be vacated for this season.

“We certainly wish we were not in this position,” Hancock said. “But the only responsible thing is to take whatever actions we can reasonably take to better protect those who play and coach the game.”

During a news conference Tuesday night after practice, Michigan tackle Andrew Stueber said the team was taking seriously the latest omicron variant.

 “We’ve implemented masks in meetings, maintaining social distancing,” Stueber said. “A lot of people are taking their meals to go now, not really sitting too much.”

“It’s a lot safer now out there. A lot of students have left the campus, the booster is out there now. We have a full-team booster shot (Wednesday), so that’ll be good. I think everyone understands the gravity of the situation. To have an outbreak now would be devastating to a lot of people. Understanding the concern there is a big thing so we’ve taken the proper precautions.”

Ablauf clarified Tuesday night that several players and coaches already have received their COVID booster. He said all Michigan athletes will receive a booster shot.

Stueber said there haven’t been any player absences from practice because of COVID-19.

Georgia reportedly has players in COVID protocol, including quarterback J.T. Daniels and receiver George Pickens. According to a sourced report Tuesday by DawgNation, Georgia has “players” in COVID protocol. The team was being offered booster shots on Wednesday.

Twitter: @chengelis