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Coalition of Michigan Athletes: Lift Sports Shut-Down

Paul Steinbach

Days after the state's health department shut down their athletic program, a coalition of University of Michigan student-athletes crafted a statement calling for a return to activities.

"Based on the department's testing policies, placing healthy students in quarantine is unnecessary and excessive," the statement read, as reported by The Athletic. "Placing the entirety of student-athletes in a mandated quarantine, instead of working it on a team by team basis, is unfair to the athletes who have followed protocols necessary to compete and have had no contact with the confirmed cases."

The two-week shutdown originally came on the heels of confirmed positive test results for the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 "for several individuals linked to the U-M Athletic Department," the school said in a statement on Saturday, The Athletic reported.

According to the school's statement on Saturday, the B.1.1.7 variant is thought to be approximately 50 percent more transmissible than the standard form of the virus and could lead to a faster spread and an increased number of cases.

Student-athletes and coaching staff had to immediately quarantine starting Saturday.

"Canceling competitions is never something we want to do, but with so many unknowns about this variant of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread," athletic director Warde Manuel said in Saturday's statement.

As reported by The Michigan Daily student newspaper, Christian Hubaker, a senior on the track and field and cross-country teams, felt especially aggrieved by the decision, as it prevents the Wolverines from competing in this week’s Big Ten Cross Country Championships. In turn, that will leave Michigan athletes ineligible for NCAA Championships. The source of Hubaker’s frustration, though, was a sense that the MDHHS directive was poorly aimed.

“It’s foolish to think that the variant isn’t gonna be around in two weeks and it’s probably gonna be a bigger deal,” Hubaker told The Daily. “Because we’re the only sector of the community that’s being shut down right now. And we’re, in my opinion, the safest and have the strictest guidelines of anyone else in the community. 

“So if we had it, the community definitely has it. And we’re worried, a lot of us are worried. And we’ve heard this two-week period thrown around a lot before, and we’re worried that this isn’t gonna be a two-week thing.”

Hubaker said he and Joe Pace, a sixth-year utility player on the baseball team, were the leaders in crafting the statement and petition that were eventually posted to social media Monday afternoon. The letter, shared on Twitter by Michigan wrestler Myles Amine, was signed off by a “coalition of student-athletes,” which Hubaker said includes athletes from nearly every program on campus, including the men’s basketball and football programs.

“We’ve been trying to have it be a big, collaborative effort because we really want to have a unified voice out there between all athletes,” Hubaker said. As of late Monday afternoon, that goal had succeeded, with the petition receiving over 2,880 signatures in just six hours. Pace said that over 100 athletes were in a GroupMe to help collaborate on the petition.

According to The Athletic, the likelihood of Michigan athletics reversing the shutdown are not good, given that 13 cases of the new COVID-19 variant existed in Washtenaw County as of Monday. The greater likelihood that some should hope for is adjustments to be made in scheduling that favor some impacted Michigan sports, such as the Big Ten cross-country championship being pushed to a later date or an alternate race being created to allow for NCAA qualifying.

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