By Dan Hardenbrook
No matter how hard I try, I can’t make sense of it. This is usually one of the best times of the year to be a sports fan. Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally a binge worthy buffet of sports action. NFL football takes center stage, even if the Lions and Cowboys break hearts every year. College football features phenomenal rivalry games. College basketball just tipped off. But this year as I sat back recovering from one-too-many trips to the dinner table, I couldn’t get excited. Because no matter how many options there were on TV, I found myself missing what we don’t have. Our local sports scene is still silent.
In Michigan, Thanksgiving weekend is when we crown the high school football champions. It’s been a part of the sports lifestyle as long as I can remember. Normally, the Lions lose on Thursday, then the top teams in the state clash for championships. Friday and Saturday should’ve been about leftovers and the high school football finals at Ford Field. It goes all the way back to when the famed Pontiac Silverdome still stood tall. But not this year.
I had a lot of time to think during my drive back from North Dakota. And one thought crossed my mind that still doesn’t make much sense. If the Lions can still play, why can’t we? If Michigan and Michigan State can battle the Big Ten’s best, why can’t North Central complete its championship season? If the college basketball season can start, why are high school seasons shut down?
I know COVID cases are climbing sky high. I understand the safety issues involved. I know there are more important things in life. I’m sure I’ll get more letters in the mail next week calling me uneducated and questioning my information. But this isn’t an argument about numbers or science. It’s an issue of common sense (or a lack thereof).
It just doesn’t make sense to me how the very same sport played on the very same field can’t be played by high school teams. Yes, colleges and the pros have protocols in place. They have better access to testing and far more players to pick from.
But high school programs have been commended for how they handled the 2020 fall season. The MHSAA praised players for following their own protocols. A months-long process to put together a health and safety plan included medical advisory teams and input from not only the MHSAA, but the National Federation of High Schools, and the same college conferences you see playing.
If everyone has been on the same page, why can’t they all play the same sport?
You could even argue that the school-based sport system is doing things smarter and safer than the colleges and pros. The Lions aren’t wearing masks or face shields on their helmets. College basketball players aren’t being forced to wear them on the court while in competition, but the MHSAA made that mandatory for high schoolers this basketball season.
Heck, we just saw an NFL team play a game this weekend with a quarterback who has the exact same amount of pro football experience as me (none) because the rest of their quarterbacks couldn’t follow the rules, and caused a COVID outbreak.
While the NFL caused chaos by rescheduling last week’s Steelers/Ravens game three or four times to prevent canceling a nationally televised game between an undefeated team and the defending league MVP, the MHSAA shut down one of its defending state champions and ended their season even though Pickford technically had enough players cleared to play.
Why? Because they wanted to avoid causing a larger issue: potentially impacting and infecting two totally different communities. They understood that no matter how good the Pickford team was, cancelling the game and telling Pickford that they couldn’t play was the right thing to do. They didn’t bend the rules. They reinforced them.
It makes no sense that professional and collegiate teams are travelling and playing around the country while the rest of us are told to stay home, and not play. The Lions have played out-of-state six times this season. Michigan and Michigan State have over a half dozen road games combined.
NFL rosters have 53 players, plus coaches, support staff, trainers, and team officials. The average college football team travels with close to 100 people. Think about that the next time you can’t get together with more than one other household.
The logic is missing. We can’t be allowed to manage our own kids in our own communities? We can’t trust our own people in positions of knowledge to make the right decision? The governor and the MDHHS both said these new restrictions are designed to keep communities and kids safe. They cited data and science.
Good for them. They are both smarter than I am. But having common sense doesn’t take a college education. Just open your eyes. How do you explain it to that kid who can’t practice but can watch his favorite team play? If the governor and the state are going to allow the big leagues with the big pocketbooks to keep on playing, they need to back off and get our kids back in the game.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Detroit or downtown Newberry. Engadine or East Lansing. The games are the same. So why aren’t the rules?