Jim Harbaugh Says Playing Football Can't 'Make Coronavirus Worse'

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has suggested that playing sports will not "make coronavirus worse" and that society is simply going to have to accept it has to live with the pandemic.

The COVID-19 outbreak ground sport to a halt in March and spiking cases across the U.S. could still derail the NBA and MLB's plans to restart their seasons later this month.

The NFL remains confident its campaign will begin on September 10 as scheduled, but there are more doubts surrounding the upcoming college football season, which is supposed to get underway next month.

Harbaugh, however, sees no reason as to why college football executives should postpone the season.

"COVID is part of our society. Wasn't caused by football or caused by sports," he said on Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. "And there's no expert view right now that I'm aware of that sports is going to make that worse. It's part of our society; we're going to have to deal with it.

"These kids are going to have to do the same thing. They've got to go to school. They've trained their whole lives for the opportunity to play their sport. That is my view with the knowledge that we have and time to learn more about it."

The Wolverines welcomed student-athletes back for voluntary workouts last month and the latest rounds of test carried out on June 29 returned just two positive cases over 322 individuals tested.

Other schools, however, haven't been quite as lucky.

On Wednesday, North Carolina reported that 37 people within Tar Heels athletics—which includes coaches, staff and student-athletes—had tested positive and was forced to halt voluntary activities for its football program after the county's health department identified the Chapel Hill campus as a "cluster" of COVID-19 cases.

Ohio State also suspended voluntary workouts on campus on Wednesday, although it did not disclose the number of positive tests among student-athletes, coaches and staff.

On the same day, the Ivy League announced it will not hold sporting events in the upcoming semester because of the pandemic.

Last week, Oklahoma said 14 players had tested positive to COVID-19, while Sports Illustrated and AL.com reported "several" Alabama players had contracted coronavirus, although they did not specify an exact figure.

In June, meanwhile, Kansas State suspended voluntary activities after 14 players within its football program tested positive, while Clemson reported a total of 47 student-athletes had tested positive for coronavirus, including 37 football players and four staff members.

Michigan's training camp workouts are due to begin on July 24 ahead of the season opener on September 5 and Harbaugh suggested the players were adamant they wanted to play this season.

"I share the same opinion as our players—they want to play," he continued.

"They've been training their whole lives for these opportunities. Put the question to them, which I have, and they would rather play than not play. And they'd rather play in front of no fans than not play."

In May, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned football was the perfect environment for the novel coronavirus to spread.

"Sweat as such won't transmit it. But if people are in such close contact as football players are on every single play, then that's the perfect set up for spreading," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC's Peter King.

"If you really want to be in a situation where you want to be absolutely certain, you'd test all the players before the game."

Harbaugh, however, argued that if campuses were considered safe environments for students, the same should apply to the universities' athletic complexes and training fields.

"If students are on campus, then my personal belief as a parent of a daughter who would also be on campus that this is a safe place," he continued. "As safe as possible, would be within the university, in our athletic buildings and complexes. The safety precautions that have been put into place.

As of Thursday morning over 3.05 million cases of coronavirus had been reported in the U.S., by far the highest tally of any country in the world.

Of the over 549,900 deaths recorded worldwide so far, more than 132,300 have been in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.

There have been over 12 million confirmed cases globally since the outbreak of coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines
Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh reacts to a call during the second quarter of the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Leon Halip/Getty