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DPS Superintendent Nikolai Vitti urges MHSAA to allow fall football in Michigan

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti is unhappy with Michigan High School Athletic Association director Mark Uyl over his handling of the state’s high school football season, which was shut down this fall and pushed to spring 2021.

Vitti wrote a letter to Uyl on behalf of the district, coaches, students and parents across Metro Detroit and the state of Michigan, urging him to stop punting the decision over playing football to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Nikolai Vitti

In a press release from the PSL, Vitti asks the MHSAA: “Why are you blaming or asking the Governor to make decisions that she has given to the MHSAA to make?”

Vitti continued: “The intent of this letter is to request that you and the Michigan High School Sports Association Representative Council reconsider your position to allow over 35,000 student-athletes in over 600 schools throughout Michigan, and specifically over 1,100 student-athletes within our school district, to play football this fall. I write this letter on behalf of our district’s football coaches but also on behalf of countless players, coaches and families who have reached out to me within Detroit and throughout the state about their frustration with the MHSAA’s decision.

“James Alexander, our district’s Executive Director of Athletics and Member of the Representative Council, and I were shocked when you and the MHSAA made the decision to shift the football season to the spring. This announcement was made after you made strong public statements only a few days before stating the consensus was that players, families and schools wanted to play throughout the state; teams, including coaches and players, were applying the right COVID safety standards; and that high school football was not comparable to college football considering the Big Ten’s decision to move the season to the spring.

More: MHSAA needs final verdict 'soon' on fall soccer, volleyball, swimming in Michigan

“After the surprising reversal to shift the season to the spring, vague reasons were provided, including rising concerns from Athletic Directors across the state with playing, limited audiences for games and the lack of clear support from the Governor and the state health department. Factually, nothing changed from a player’s health perspective or risk analysts from strongly starting football would be played to it being postponed. This has led everyone, including myself, to believe politics were played and that the MHSAA abdicated its responsibility to make athletic decisions and instead deferred to the Governor in closed door conversations instead of supporting student-athletes, coaches and their families.”

Michigan’s neighboring states Indiana and Ohio are playing high school football this fall. Pennsylvania’s athletic association also chose to play football this fall against its governor’s suggestion to push it to the spring.

Vitti went on: “From the beginning, the Governor stated that the playing of sports was the decision of the MHSAA. Even now, as the MHSAA continues to put pressure on her to allow swimming, volleyball and soccer to be played in certain areas of the state, it was the MHSAA that placed that burden on her through your guidelines that connected Michigan’s Safe Start phase with sports. Why are you blaming or asking the Governor to make decisions that she has given to the MHSAA to make?”

Uyl said during a radio interview this week that the MHSAA sent a survey to athletic directors throughout the state on playing football this fall and the results were 60-40 in favor of playing.

“I understand that political opinions are mixed on a lot of different things in our state and nation right now, but for us to try and make a political statement in one direction or another when at the end of the day we’re about health and safety, welfare of the student-athlete and making decisions based on that, that’s just a political fight we’re not getting into,” Uyl said. “We know what the state law is and we know what the EOs (executive orders) say. Everything that we’re currently doing in fall sports and all of our planning when it comes to winter and spring, it’s all reflective of current executive orders.”

More: 'It was a shocker': No high school football a bitter pill for Michigan coaches, players

Uyl went on to say there is no study that says football can be played safely right now.

“I think that all you can really do is say, well, the things that we have learned over the last six months is stay apart from people, wear a facial covering and don’t touch anybody else. Well, two of those three things when playing a game like football are impossible.”