A Little Birdie tells me University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel is one of the biggest remaining obstacles to the return of Big Ten football this fall. To the point he’s threatening to have Michigan sit out even if the Big Ten votes to go in October, denying the Big Ten its signature game.
That’s right, from what I’m told Schlissel is willing to weaponize the Michigan-Ohio State game as a threat to keep the Big Ten home this October, believing the league wouldn’t dare move forward without The Game. Thus losing hundreds of millions of dollars for member institutions while watching 76 other FBS teams play college football.
That’s why the protest tomorrow couldn’t be better timed, and needs to send a resounding message to Schlissel, especially with high school football now set to return in the state of Michigan. Will Jim Harbaugh himself show up at the protest? His clout may be needed here to send a message to his university president.
As an immunologist, Schlissel should be one of the most uniquely qualified presidents/chancellors to opine on playing this season, but he has offered no public specifics about his apparent concerns as the sport ramps up across the Big Ten footprint at the high school and pro level. Neither did he visit the football program one time this summer to see for himself how the players were being kept safe and honoring protocols, but he does appear willing to use the power of the Michigan football brand as leverage to suit his desires here.
Like the hit reality show ‘Survivor’ alliances have been formed within the conference, and so far Schlissel’s sit-out tribe has controlled the fate of the league. With no re-vote coming this week as was hoped for, the Big Ten is still sitting out while lowly Central Arkansas has helped fill the void with two nationally-televised appearances already. The Bears have also reported zero positive tests as well.
So if Central Arkansas can make this work, and high schools across the region can, why can’t a conference with some of the top med schools in the country?
Schlissel is in no hurry to rethink his decision, and remains unconvinced by the scientific and medical expertise that is currently being utilized elsewhere in the sport. If he doesn’t budge, it’s possible Schlissel could leave the winningest program in history completely isolated while others play on this season.
So what could boost the Big Ten’s opposing “return to play” faction?
Ironically, it could get some help from the beleaguered Pac-12, which announced Wednesday it will have its testing metric in place by the end of the month. If it then moves to play this fall after all, that will only put greater pressure on the Big Ten.
Next, September 12 is a key date. That is the deadline for the Big Ten to submit its internal reasoning/evidence for cancelling the fall season for discovery to a Nebraska county court. Given the Big Ten previously told the judge that transparency could harm the league, further potential embarrassments abound once that is unsealed for the public.
Finally, that same weekend two Power 5 conferences and the NFL will play their first games. If they pull those off without systemic issues coming to light, there will be real-time evidence it is safe to play football.
So while Schlissel and his shutdown allies seemingly have the advantage now, looming events could turn the tide within an increasingly divided and dysfunctional Big Ten Conference.