The Michigan Wolverines are 5-0 and have a game coming up on Dec. 13 against Penn State, which kicks off Big Ten Conference play. What comes next for them is a scheduled break of 12 days before going on the road to play Nebraska.
For those quick with mental math, you have realized that means Michigan will be playing college basketball on Christmas Day, which has only happened once before back in 1997.
That is not sitting with players inside the locker room.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t wanna get started on that right now,” senior forward Isaiah Livers said after the win over Toledo on Wednesday. “We’re all not too excited about that. No knock against Nebraska, but on Christmas Day I don’t think anyone wants to travel away from their place. That’s a different story we’re not gonna go into with college athletes not being paid. But still, you gotta think about being grateful and being blessed to even have an opportunity to be on the court. Because like I said, the season could have not happened. So I see what they were thinking in trying to schedule games. We have a long break between Penn State and Nebraska so I don’t know, we could get NC State back in that little window we have.”
Head coach Juwan Howard addressed it after the game and downplayed it, saying that his team would play the games that are scheduled as planned and show up ready to compete.
“We’re for competitors only,” Howard told the media. “So they schedule a game, the game is for us to play at Nebraska, we’re gonna show up to play.”
Michigan is not alone on Christmas, as the Big Ten has scheduled four games to take place that day. The defenders of the move say that it keeps the kids from going home and being with family members that could potentially spread the virus. Given what is currently playing out with the football program coming off of Thanksgiving, those are certainly valid concerns.
The idea that we are playing college sports in a pandemic has always centered around the money to be made from television ratings. The problem is, as Livers eluded to, these players are basically being treated as unpaid essential workers to make a quick buck for their school. In that, frustrations about playing on the holidays — as they are also scheduled to play at Maryland on New Year's Eve — completely make sense.
But Christmas Day does not even make a whole heck of a lot of business sense from a TV ratings standpoint for the Big Ten. They will be competing with a five-game slate of loaded NBA matchups starting at noon and an NFL game that kicks off at 4:30 p.m. between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings.
The Big Ten is banking on the idea that families will not be gathering as normal and there will not be much to do anyway, but that is a pretty full slate of games in other sports to compete against. While it may work as the deterrent they are hoping for in keeping teams together in quasi-bubbles and away from families, it is not quite the showcase they might be hoping for.
So much is being asked of all of these college athletes during a pandemic with daily testing and fears of the other shoe dropping at any moment with positives and being among the only students on campus. All of this nukes the idea that amateurism still exists at this level of athletics.
News of Boston College electing to opt-out of bowl season hammers all of this home even more and they will not be the last team to do so. The sacrifices being made and the efforts that athletes are being asked to put forth to play a sport in what currently is a one-sided agreement is tough.
This is not to say anyone should boycott playing or watching these games, but it adds another layer to what these players are going to. That the Big Ten just could not give its athletes a holiday to lay low and relax in is pretty disappointing.
For what they are being asked to do, they deserve better than that.