A highly contagious COVID-19 variant originating in the U.K. found a home in Ann Arbor.
Multiple University of Michigan personnel tested positive this week, and the entire athletic department paused for 14 days while all athletes quarantined.
The shutdown comes less than two months before Selection Sunday, and the Wolverine men are currently No. 4 in the nation — positioned for a top seed in the tournament.
The team is unlikely to lose tournament eligibility after playing the minimum required number of games. But the program faces a logistical nightmare without the ability to practice or compete as a group for two weeks.
Should the COVID-19 variant threaten the team’s postseason, however, dire financial losses could befall both the program and the entire Big Ten: Conferences’ share of the revenue is dictated by how far their teams advance.
A Muddled Decision
“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 a statement.
The state’s health department “mandated” a shutdown, according to a Michigan athletics statement.
But a letter obtained by The Detroit News stated that the health department only recommended the shutdown, suggesting the university may have made the ultimate decision.
The health department and school’s refusal to take responsibility for handing down the final decision follows a common political dance in big-time college sports this year. No one wants to be blamed for shutting down competition in areas where college sports reign supreme.
Athletes Fight Back
Some Wolverines are unfazed by the COVID-19 variant. A coalition of athletes released a statement on Jan. 25 expressing the desire to be released from quarantine to resume competition and practice.
In a Change.org petition that garnered more than 4,000 signatures in 24 hours, athletes called the shutdown and quarantine “unnecessary” and “unfair.” They asked that the state health department reassess its shutdown “mandate,” saying that Michigan athletics would halt competition if the situation were dire enough.
As mentioned previously, however, it’s unclear who actually forced the shutdown.