BY Art Thiel 08:09PM 07/09/2020

Thiel: Virus fears wipe out Michigan game at UW

A compedium of pandemic sports news, starting with a large casualty: The Michigan-Washington epic is no more. If you need laughs, watch the meme at the end.

Seattle’s sports fans will be denied the chance to ask Jim Harbaugh what his deal is. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The coronavirus, always in the lead, is beginning to put distance between its relentless self and the local and national sports sensibilities.

The highlight event of the Seattle sports calendar in September, the visit of the Michigan Wolverines and coach Jim Harbaugh to Husky Stadium for a season-opening game Sept. 5 against Washington, was cancelled Thursday.

The Big Ten Conference announced it would play no non-conference football games — if it plays any fall sports at all.

“We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority,” the Big Ten said in a statement. ” . . . By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”

Similar decisions are expected to be repeated around the Power 5 conferences and throughout college athletics as the virus rages, supercharged by a deliberately hapless federal government, and individuals convinced that mandatory mask-wearing is a threat to their liberty, when it is a mere extension of the social contract that is the foundation of the U.S. Constitution.

In a time of great need for unity and common purpose, too many, starting most influentially at the White House, are going it alone.

Even the college conferences operate within own orbits and rules, making inter-conference play an awkward competition of untrackable health standards.

The football field may be 100 yards in Montlake and Ann Arbor, but are the airport, hotel and visitors’ locker room sanitized the same as back home? Who says so? And what happens if 10 Wolverines players test positive the week after the Seattle trip? Do the Huskies shut down their following game?

So many questions. And no answers, except to avoid the situation entirely.

“Earlier today (Michigan athletics director) Warde Manuel notified me of the Big Ten’s decision to play a conference-only schedule this fall, cancelling our Sept. 5 game with Michigan at Husky Stadium,” UW AD Jennifer Cohen said in a statement. “Our fans and football program have been looking forward to this game for several years, but we understand this decision was made due to the impact of COVID-19 and prioritizing the health and well-being of student-athletes.”

The Michigan game was considered UW’s premier showcase in an otherwise lackluster home schedule — Oregon State, Arizona, Stanford and Colorado in conference, plus two non-conference snoozers against Sacramento State and Utah State, should they choose to come. The Huskies are on the road against Oregon, Utah, USC, Washington State and Cal.

If the Pac-12 chooses to follow the Big Ten’s lead, UW would cancel Sac State and Utah State. After a bye Sept. 26, the season opener could be at Eugene Oct. 3. That might be distant enough that by then, the virus would have ebbed — or by then, college football finally might say the hell with 2020, vowing to try again in spring.

A spring season might be plausible, if only because it gives a chance for many college students to return in person, which the Pac-12 presidents agreed earlier was a mandatory minimum ahead of the resumption of sports.

The students also by then might have a better understanding of the notion of personal responsibility. The world saw a snapshot recently from UW’s Greek Row, where the frats produced 157 positive tests from a summer population of about 1,100.

The students were all asymptomatic, and so far none have been reported hospitalized. Which doesn’t mean they couldn’t become super-spreaders with continued mask-less, reckless, entitled behavior.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer with Public Health – Seattle & King County, called the outbreak “very concerning” regarding potential compromise to the wider student body later on.

“It does make us worry about what might happen this fall,” Duchin told reporters July 3. “We understand there was a lot of socializing, a lot of risk-taking, not a lot of mask-wearing going on . . . When you do that and you don’t take precautions, you get a lot of COVID.”

That’s mostly why the eight Ivy League schools said this week they were suspending football and all sports through the fall, the first Division I conference to do so.

“We simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk,” the Ivy League Council of Presidents said in a statement. But the schools’ athletics budgets aren’t build upon TV revenues, as is the case with Power 5 conferences, which will cause them to push the safety limits to the edge, wherever that may be.

Besides college, the high-risk attempts to start or re-start sports amid produced much news in the past couple of days:

• The Seahawks became the 14th known NFL team to write season ticket holders with the option to skip the 2020 season without penalty. A club email Thursday said fans could request a refund and pause their membership for the 2020 season, or defer credit towards the 2021 season.

The NFL hasn’t yet flinched on an on-time start in September, but it also hasn’t reached an agreement with the players union on the exhibition season in August. The owners offered to trim from four games to two, and the players want zero, to reduce health risks and to allow a more measured training camp.

• Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto reported three positive tests among returning players, but because of federal medical privacy rules and an agreement with the union, would not identify them.

The Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish wrote that five players have been absent for all of the first week of workouts — OF Mallex Smith, INF/OF Dylan Moore,  C Joe Hudson, reliever  Yoshihisa Hirano and OF Julio Rodriguez. But Rodriguez, the highly valued prospect, was back Thursday.

“Right now we’re pleased with how things are going overall,” Dipoto said. “Our players got in early. We got through the testing and we got out on the field in about as seamless a fashion as we could have hoped.”

• MLS has had two of its 26 teams, Nashville and Dallas, drop out of its bubble tourney underway without spectators near Orlando, FL., after the virus shredded their rosters. The defending champion Sounders reported no confirmed cases ahead of their tourney opener at 6 p.m. Friday (ESPN) against San Jose, but are missing Will Bruin and Joao Paulo because of injuries.

Seattle plays at 6 a.m. Tuesday (ESPN) against Chicago and 7:30 p.m. July 19 (FS1) against Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver at 7:30 p.m. All three results will count in MLS standings, should the regular season return. In the tourney, the top two teams from the six groups, plus the next four with the best records, will advanc to the knockout stage.

• The WNBA bubble got off to a bad start at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL., with social media reports sent to Deadspin by players of bed bugs, mouse traps, other unsanitary conditions and poor food, including a video from the Storm’s Breanna Stewart showing bed bug traps.

• In the spectator-free National Women’s Soccer League bubble tourney in Utah, which lost one team (Orlando) to a virus spike, the OL Reign of Tacoma had a scoreless draw, a loss and a win in its first three games. They play Monday against Portland at 12:30 p.m. (CBS All Access).

• The NHL and its players union have reached a tentative agreement on calendar dates for the playoff season in the bubbles of Edmonton and Toronto. Games begin Aug. 1, the Stanley Cup Finals start Sept. 20, and the last possible game is Oct. 2.

A bigger development for fans of Seattle’s expansion franchise: The start of the inaugural 2021-22 season was pushed back to Dec. 1.

Covid-related delays in construction pushed back the arena opening from June ’21 to September, so the the Dec. 1 start should take more pressure off the complicated project.

Who says there’s no good news in sports?

There’s room for humor too. Here’s a voice-over meme making Twitter-hockey circles about the choices for the hub cities. Dare you to not laugh:




  • James

    Any place in Florida without cockroaches is classified as a five-star accommodation.

    • art thiel

      Are there such places? Besides Mar-A-Lago, I mean.

      • Husky73

        There’s a big cockroach there…..

  • Guy K. Browne

    Edmonton… now that was funny.

    • art thiel

      I certainly needed the laugh. Glad you enjoyed.

      • Guy K. Browne

        Gawd, it’s better each time you watch it…

    • Husky73

      Will the Eskimos change their name?

      • art thiel

        Were they a conquered people? I don’t think so. Canadians don’t do that sort of thing.

      • Guy K. Browne

        It is an ongoing topic of discussion in Canada. The term “Eskimo” is considered derogatory in certain contexts. Also, Inuit people are not indigenous to the Edmonton area, so there’s that.
        Alliteration was likely the motivation for the mascot/team name. I would stay tuned; as these issues get more broadly discussed and examined, I would expect pressure to mount on the team to change their name. On the other hand, since the entire CFL season is likely wiped out, the league may have existential issues to tackle prior to debating the propriety of team mascots.

        • art thiel

          Thank for the update.

        • Husky73

          A considered name change is Empires, which keeps the EE logo. However, the BC Lions played for many years in Empire Stadium, so they claim it.

        • Kirkland

          I haven’t seen the Eskimos or their fans use Inuit imagery at games. The fans just wear the team’s green-and-gold colors, and the team’s helmet logo is just an interlocking “EE”. The only reason I can think of for the name is that Edmonton is *really* far north.

          • Guy K. Browne

            Eagles would be an easy fix, as you mention, keeping the current logo.

  • Husky73

    As a worried grand father of an incoming UW freshman (woman), I say pack it in and I’ll (hopefully) cheer on the Dawgs in September 2021.

    • art thiel

      You’re living the fear that all relatives have for their students heading to a campus. And the school presidents are hearing from them.

  • Kirkland

    I wonder if the sheer size of this country and varied makeups of the states make a unified virus response impractical. Is a strict quarantine in densely populated New York appropriate in rural, empty South Dakota?

    This is worse for the FCS sacrificial lambs than the Power 5 schools, since most of their athletic budgets come from getting throttled at the big boys’ stadiums.

    Baseball’s prevention of identifying positive testing players is nothing I’m not used to. Wait till the NHL team starts, and you see players listed with “upper-body” and “lower-body” injuries; hockey teams have been doing this for a decade. As for the meme about Vegas, the Super 8 bit is partly true. When the teams of Lou Lamoreillo, a longtime GM/president now with the Islanders, play at the Vegas Golden Knights, he has them stay at a non-casino hotel a half-hour away from town, since he believes the Strip is not an appropriate place for a “business trip”.

    • art thiel

      The U.S. is a complicated stew of legal and agency responsibilities and restrictions. So yes, it is harder to gain uniformity, by definition. But we still are operating way beneath capacity because Trump refuses to uses emergency levers of government like the Defense Production Act, for a strictly political reason.

      He won election based on elimination of the administrative state, because it was fundamental to Deep State conspiracy theorists. But if he used the powers of his office fully against the pandemic, he would demonstrate that the federal bureaucracy performs a vital, necessary function in emergencies.

      Imagine abdication of federal responsibilities in a time of war: Hey Washington, you take on North Korea; California, take China. Yet he proclaimed himself a wartime president until the sound of it no longer amused him.

  • jafabian

    I’ve been following what the WNBA players have been going through and that’s completely lame. Glad to see their NBA counterparts supporting them. Even if they don’t get the same kind of treatment as the NBA it’s not that hard to get some good accommodations. Has the WNBA executives no clue on how to use Yelp?

    I’m not sure how staying within their conference is any safer for Michigan. Their stadium is bigger than Husky Stadium. It has a capacity of 115,000. Their state has much more dire numbers for COVID-19 than Washington. It could be argued they’d be safer coming here.

    • art thiel

      It’s not as much about the site as the travel, and the conference standards. Also if a conference must cut its schedule, the first to go is nonconference games. That’s just common sense.

      The WNBA choice to go with IMG Academy came with the onsite hotels included. They can’t go to Super 8 or Red Roof Inn. But the conditions IMG presented were deplorable. I wonder whether the shutdown caused the company to furlough too many workers.

  • Parts

    Maybe I misunderstood what you wrote, but the Seattle NHL teams inaugural season is supposed to be the 2021/22 season.

    • art thiel

      Fixed. Thanks.

  • wabubba67

    If the PAC-12 decides on a conference only schedule for 2020, how do you think it should be structured?:

    1.) Play every team once. Would need to establish tiebreaking rules in the event of two, three, and four way ties for first. (Divisions would be eliminated for 2020.)

    2.) Same as in #1, except divisions would still exist. (More difficult to do because of added games for championship.)

    3.) Play each team in your division twice (home and away).

    • art thiel

      The key is travel. P12 is the most spread-out conference, so air travel risks would be a bigger factor. Also hot spots. Right now AZ is the nation’s second-most toxic state, But by September, who knows? I’m sure option 1 is the favorite, but as the spread gets worse, it’s hard to see how the presidents could justify the risk to student health. P12 has not asked students to sign liability waivers.

  • Alan Harrison

    Dominoes are predictably falling. It was obvious that college presidents (and not Emmert or the rest of the NCAA) would have to make the call. The smartest and most influential ones – the Ivy League college presidents – shut it down. The anti-intellectual folks will ultimately have to as well; with luck, few will have died by direct or indirect result of transmission during the interim.

    The NFL will likely be next. You just can’t socially distance on a football field.

    • art thiel

      The Ivy League was the first conference to shut down sports March 10, and was widely mocked for overreacting. By about March 13, all college conferences were lining up behind it.

      And now, the virus spread is getting worse.