Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is a man who goes against the grain of the status-quo if he thinks new ideas are necessary to improve college football. Usually, when Harbaugh promotes a new train of thought, he’s doing so alone with most head coaches staying silent.
In the past Harbaugh has made it clear he’d like to see the College Football Playoff expanded, he’s been on record in favor of student-athletes being granted a one-time transfer with immediate eligibility, and in May Harbaugh penned an open letter calling for changes to the NFL Draft process and the collegiate model. In these instances when Harbaugh made a statement, other college head coaches didn’t join the conversation, didn’t even partake in back and forth debating the merits of Harbaugh’s ideas. And that trend continues as we sit here on August 10, 2020.
On Monday morning with reports swirling around that the Big Ten season will be canceled, Harbaugh released a data-driven statement expressing his support for the #WeWantToPlay movement.
“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players’ desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” Harbaugh said in the statement.
Harbaugh goes on to list key data points that include zero positive tests out of the last 353 administered to UM players and staff (11 positive tests out of 893 in all), no contact tracing in their facilities, and zero positive tests among coaches or staff. “As Darryl Conway, our Chief Medical Officer and a member of the Big Ten’s Medical Advisory Group has stated, “I wish that others could see this model,’” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh’s statement comes with the #WeWantToPlay hashtag attached to it, a movement by Power Five conference players to form a college football players association and have universal COVID-19 safety protocols. Most head coaches want to have a season, but they want to distance themselves from anything that would appear to be supporting a potential players association.
It shouldn’t have to be just Jim Harbaugh speaking out in support of players, now and in the past. Especially now, when player safety and rights should be at the forefront of any decision-making it’s disappointing not to hear from other high-profile head coaches. A unified statement from Jim Harbaugh, Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, Lincoln Riley, and other college coaches sure would be nice.
What gives credence to the true intent of Harbaugh’s statement resides in the data he presented. If he just said ‘players are safe at our program’ without any supporting evidence, his rationale couldn’t be taken seriously. However, Harbaugh came with the data. Harbaugh is showing that his program has done things, in his view, the right way and in a way that won’t lead to a mass-positive rate on his team. Other head coaches should jump on board with this type of logic, it’s the only way a season will be played in the fall, or even the spring. “It is proven that the conduct, discipline, and structure within our program have led to these stellar results,” Harbaugh said. “We respect the challenge that the virus has presented however we will not cower from it.” Harbaugh’s conveying that Michigan is walking the walk and is encouraging other programs to step up and follow suit.
Whether there’s a season or not, pro-activity is necessary, communication between conferences is a must. At some point, more coaches and administrators with influence need to go on the record instead of inadvertently creating mass confusion with their silence. Jim Harbaugh is just one guy, albeit an important figure in college football, and he shouldn’t have to tackle key issues head-on all by himself. He needs help, college football needs help, and it starts with more true and transparent leadership in the offices of head coaches and athletic directors.