A day after the Big Ten canceled the football season, and without answers to a number of questions, namely, why was this decision was made, several parents of Michigan players are furious.
Just days after Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren unveiled a conference-only 10-game composite schedule with built-in flexibility and set to kick of Labor Day weekend, he announced Tuesday that there will be no season because of lingering COVID-19 fears.
Michigan players are still going through voluntary 20-hour practice week in helmets-only. The Big Ten is considering a modified spring football schedule in addition to playing in the fall 2021.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh issued a lengthy statement Monday detailing why he believed they should have a fall season. Shortly after the Big Ten canceled the season, the Pac-12 announced it would also not play this fall. Other Power 5 conferences, like the SEC, are still planning to play.
“I can’t believe we are here,” Peach Pagano, mother of Michigan captain Carlo Kemp, said Wednesday. “I can’t believe that this happened, honestly, that they wouldn’t even give us a shot to get through game one. In my mind, I’m like, ‘Let’s just get one game under our belt.”
“One game,” Lisa McCaffrey, mother of Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey and who also has a son, Luke, at Nebraska, chimed in.
“Even two games,” Pagano said. “I’m not scared that my son’s going to die from it. I know we’re too healthy, our mindsets, and the way we believe. But oh my God, they didn’t even give us a chance. And then this — other schools are still going. I can’t process it properly.
“If it was for the greater good, they would cancel campuses. But they canceled football?”
Chris Hutchinson was an All-American and captain in 1992 at Michigan and is the father of Aidan Hutchinson, a junior defensive end. Hutchinson also is an ER doctor at Beaumont Royal Oak and has been in the thick of treating COVID-19 patients. He has said all along he had no concerns with Aidan playing this fall.
Now, upperclassmen like Hutchinson, Kemp, Kwity Paye, Nico Collins, and Chris Evans, among others, are considering what’s next.
“Every option is on the table — transferring, leaving for the NFL, opting out of anything here on out, going to a conference that wants to play,” Chris Hutchinson said.
Players opting to transfer to a school that is still planning to play likely would have to sit out the year but at least would be able to engage in padded practices. The parents are frustrated.
“Clearly the presidents have their own agenda and it doesn’t line up with the majority of players and coaches I know,” Hutchinson said. “The majority want to play and that’s been taken away by someone who doesn’t come to Schembechler Hall. It will be a huge issue if other conferences play and the Big Ten doesn’t.”
Hutchinson was puzzled that a schedule would be released and then the season canceled a few days later. Many in the Big Ten pointed to myocarditis, the inflammation of the heart muscle, having become a bigger issue for Power 5 conferences after the condition was linked to COVID-19.
“There’s no new information that’s come out since they announced there’s going to be a season,” Hutchinson said. “The only thing that’s changed is the people who actually make the decisions got into a room together. 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. 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.”
Melissa Hutchinson, Aidan’s mother, McCaffrey and Pagano watched their sons work out on a daily basis once on-campus activities were suspended in mid-March. Dylan McCaffrey, who was going to compete for the starting role at quarterback, worked out with his father, Ed, the long-time NFL receiver now head coach at Northern Colorado and brothers, Luke, a quarterback at Nebraska, and Christian, running back for the Carolina Panthers.
“They were on such a nice trajectory,” McCaffrey said. “Maturing, body maturing, just ready for the season and, man, to have the rug pulled out from under them is so disheartening. I feel so dejected. If I feel that way, I know they feel it 20 million times more. My heart is bleeding right now for them.”
“They strung them along,” Melissa Hutchinson said. “They gave their all every day.
“I don’t want to be the person who says ‘Why? Why? Why?’ but why didn’t they give them a chance,” Pagano said. “Who sat down to make the Big Ten schedule? You had to work all that out, and you put in lag times if people have an outbreak, and a week later it’s canceled? Why?”
Harbaugh was proud of his staff and players for their vigilance in maintaining social distancing and wearing masks. He said recently that of the more than 100 players tested last week, there were no positive tests.
“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?” 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.”
The biggest issue for the parents was the lack of communication from the top. Big Ten presidents and chancellors met with Warren to make the final decision, but the parents said they never heard anything from Michigan president Mark Schlissel. One Michigan player, Tyler Cochran, took to Instagram Tuesday night and criticized Schlissel for not once speaking to the team.
Melissa Hutchinson said her biggest issue was “not having answers” and seeing other conferences and teams, like the Southeastern Conference, Big-12 and ACC, still planning to play. The mothers said they would be accepting of the Big Ten’s decision if all the conferences had made the decision together.
“That was the straw that broke the horse’s back,” McCaffrey said. “That’s when I lost it. Just got so upset. Three conferences are playing and we’re not.”
Pagano said she is more concerned about “racial profiling than I am my son getting COVID-19.” The Pac-12 released information from its Medical Advisory Committee after announcing its decision to cancel the season, and that transparency was lacking in the Big Ten’s response.
“We just want answers,” Pagano said. “Just give us some answers. Give us some facts. Let’s see what you read.”
Also particularly irksome for the parents is the fact Warren’s son is a football player at Mississippi State, which is in the SEC and still planning to play. The moms of the Michigan players refused to refer to Warren by name and call him: “The guy whose son is playing for Mississippi State which is actually playing in the fall while our boys are not playing.”