Football is back on for the fall in Michigan after an executive order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday that allowed gyms to reopen and allowed more organized sports to resume if masks are worn.
Whitmer’s order, which takes effect Wednesday, allows for the reopening of fitness centers and indoor pools in a swath of the state that is home to 93% of Michigan’s population. They were allowed to open in June in northern Michigan, which is less densely populated. Face coverings will be required in all organized sports — except swimming — and inside gyms, including during exercise.
The governor, a Democrat, also allowed athletic competitions to resume in regions where they have been restricted. Her administration released guidance, however, recommending against — but not prohibiting — sports involving more than occasional and fleeting contact: football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, field hockey, boxing and martial arts with opponents.
“Given the available epidemiological data and the timing as many schools and universities return to campus, contact sports pose a high risk of disease transmission to athletes, coaches and the general community, and should be avoided at this time,” the memo said.
Yet the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), which had postponed football until the spring, quickly reinstated the fall season and said three other fall sports that were limbo in much of the state — soccer, volleyball, and swimming and diving — can start competition.
Limited football practices are scheduled to begin Tuesday with full padded practices set to begin on Thursday, the Detroit Free Press reported. The first football games will begin Sept. 18 — in what was supposed to be Michigan’s Week 4. Michigan will run a six-game regular season and begin state playoffs, which will end the first week of December.
All teams will qualify for the state playoffs, meaning none will be penalized for canceled games due to COVID-19 quarantines, the Free Press reported.
Michigan is the first state to reinstate football following a push to spring.
Its reversal drops the number of state associations not playing football this fall to 16: California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
Beginning with Utah on Aug. 13, seventeen states have already kicked off high school football seasons. Georgia and Florida were among six more set to kick off this weekend. Incidents of games being postponed or canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests or exposures among high school populations has been consistent, if sporadic, so far. Precise numbers are unavailable.
“…It’s different than three weeks ago,” MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl told the Free Press, adding that the spring football option looked less feasible for Michigan since its announcement in August. “You’re seeing states, whose COVID-19 numbers are far worse than Michigan’s. It has been, nationwide, a very successful start to the year.”
Michigan’s COVID-19 reproduction rate is 1.03, with a number over 1.0 indicating the virus is spreading. The state has seen an average of 13 deaths and approximately 700 new cases over the week ending Sept. 2, according to the New York Times. Those rates have stayed mostly the same since mid-July.
Michigan’s governor urged school districts and athletic associations to follow the guidelines issued by the state health department, which reported 36 outbreaks related to sports teams, clubs, tournaments or gyms in August.
Spectators will be limited at sporting events. Each athlete can designate up to two guests.
Whitmer had faced pressure to ease her order. Last week, high school athletes and parents held a “let them play” rally at the Capitol.
With additional reporting from the Detroit Free Press and GameTimeCT.