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'Psychological torture’: Michigan parents take issue with Big Ten’s decision to cancel season

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The lack of transparency from the Big Ten is a major source of frustration for Michigan parents.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Michigan State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In June, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh noted that the players on his team wanted to set an example by following COVID-19 health protocols. “They want to be a force for good, an example when they’re here,” Harbaugh said. A group that wanted to be “part of the solution”.

Michigan players and staff were starting to kick the pandemic in the teeth in recent weeks:

  • Zero positive tests out of the last 353 administered.
  • Zero positives tests among coaches and staff over all eight weeks of testing.
  • No contract tracing to fields, weight room, locker room or facility.
  • Zero pauses in training.

For a team that felt like they were doing everything the right way, it’s tough to accept the fall Big Ten football season is cancelled. While the Pac-12, who also cancelled their season, released findings from their Medical Advisory Committee, the Big Ten hasn’t done the same. When asked if the Big Ten would release something similar, commissioner Kevin Warren said “we’ll talk about that internally.”

“We just want answers,” Peach Pagano, mother of defensive lineman Carlo Kemp told the Detroit News. “Just give us some answers. Give us some facts. Let’s see what you read.”

Michigan president Mark Schlissel is someone who is also being questioned, most notably by Michigan defensive back Tyler Cochran and former UM standout Chris Hutchinson, father of defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.

For Cochran, he found the leadership of school presidents in the Big Ten to be incompetent, and has issue with Schlissel never being around the team. “Unfortunately, the incompetent Presidents of the Big Ten decided, despite constant testing and strict protocols, that the voices of the players were irrelevant and cancelled the season,” Cochran said. “It’s even more disappointing that the U of M president did not come speak to our team or even explain his decision making process. Not surprising since I’ve never seen him in the facility in my 4+ years here. Due to this decision, I, along with many of my brothers, may never be able to play the game of football again.”

Hutchinson echoed Cochran’s comments about Schlissel, saying “clearly the presidents have their own agenda and it doesn’t line up with the majority of players and coaches I know. The majority want to play and that’s been taken away by someone who doesn’t come to Schembechler Hall.”

Hutchinson has a unique perspective, a former UM player who’s now an ER doctor trying to keep COVID-19 patients healthy on a daily basis. Hutchinson doesn’t believe any new information emerged on the coronavirus front from when the Big Ten released the season schedule to when the season was cancelled just six days later. “There’s no new information. This fear-mongering myocarditis condition is just that. Is it possible? Yes, but it’s very rare and to have a serious complication is even rarer,” Hutchinson said. "Aidan has a greater risk of having two concussions in a season. That’s just an excuse. They don’t want to get sued, and that’s a shame, that’s a pity. Then guess what? You should make all your classes 100 percent online, because it’s going to go through the frat houses and everywhere else.”

Hutchinson isn’t the only parent that finds it head-scratching that students will be allowed on campus with a fall season being deemed unsafe for student athletes. “If it was for the greater good, they would cancel campuses. But they canceled football?,” Pagano said.

“We have shown over the weeks since returning to campus that we could meet the challenge and provide our student-athletes the opportunity of a fall football season,” part of Harbaugh’s statement on Wednesday read. “Our football team, our coaching staff, our support staff in Schembechler Hall have all stepped up, followed every rule, and done everything in their power magnificently to give all the opportunity to compete.”

Michigan players and staff have been under strict and necessary safety protocols to limit the spread of coronavirus, which makes it all the more frustrating that the season was cancelled in the manner it was. “The fact our staff and coaches bent over backwards to isolate them, they found them that hotel, they had grab-and-go meals, they had the whole thing sanitized, are you kidding me?” Lisa McCaffrey, mother of QB Dylan McCaffrey said. “The stuff they went through to make it so these kids could, and they knew all along they weren’t going to be playing? What a waste. That is psychological torture.”

A waste. Psychological torture. A shame. A pity. Disappointing. These are just some of the words used by parents to describe the season being cancelled. Parents collectively felt the protocols established at UM promoted a safe environment.

“We can unequivocally state that Michigan football has taken every measure to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our child,” Lisa and Ed McCaffrey said in a statement earlier this week. “Coach Harbaugh and his staff have maintained consistent communication with us. as well as with other parents. We are well versed in the protocols that have been established by the University of Michigan to reduce risk to our child and to other players and to maintain a safe environment. As such, we have complete trust in the coaching and the medical staff of the University of Michigan.”

In a tweet on Wednesday, Michigan Director of Recruiting Matt Dudek called for more transparency from the Big Ten and the NCAA as to what’s next. There are many questions left unresolved on the recruiting front, in terms of eligibility, and how the cancelled season will impact scholarship numbers. “Lets avoid hurting these young men any further and have transparent communication,” Dudek said.

Whether one agrees with the season being cancelled or not, the lack of transparency from the Big Ten is glaring. Not having answers about precisely why the conference reached their conclusions is a hard pill to swallow when other conferences like the Pac-12 and ACC have released findings from their medical advisory boards.

Michigan players were doing what was asked of them, the proof resides in the testing numbers. “There are so many issues we’re dealing with on so many levels. We’ll keep working with our medical people and the world isn’t ending today,” Warren said on Wednesday. While Warren can hold that view if he pleases, it’s hard to tell a student-athlete who’s waited and trained their whole life for this moment that a cancelled season isn’t the end of the world.

It’s commendable to care about the health and safety of student athletes, but now is also a time for Warren to care about the mental health of the same players he’s trying to protect from the coronavirus. As Lisa McCaffrey put it, this has all been “psychological torture” for many players and parents, and the Big Ten has a duty to answer any questions these players have and help them through these deeply troubling times.