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Michigan won’t have football unless “all students” are back on campus

Michigan's Jim Harbaugh joins Mike Tirico to explain his idea of allowing college athletes to test the NFL draft but allow them to have the option of returning under certain conditions.

There’s been a sense in recent weeks that some college football programs will find a way around the “no college football without college” principle by having a flexible definition of what constitutes “college.”

At the University of Michigan, there apparently will be no such flexibility.

Michigan president Mark Schlissel tells the Wall Street Journal that the Wolverines won’t play this fall unless all students are back on campus for classes. Schlissel added that he has “some degree of doubt as to whether there will be college athletics [anywhere], at least in the fall.”

Many have no doubt that some schools will indeed have college football with open stadiums that are either partially or completely filled. Whether it’s anticipated advancements in testing and treatment or a growing desire by many to thrust society back toward normalcy despite the ongoing pandemic, plenty of schools will find a way to play, even if Michigan doesn’t.

Ultimately, it likely will be a school-by-school decision. And one of the major factors will be whether and to what extent the school believes it can get by without football revenue.

Sure, notions of what is and isn’t the “right thing to do” will be mentioned from time to time. But college football is a billion-dollar business, with the Power Five conferences reportedly set to lose $4 billion if there’s no season. That will in plenty of cases nudge the pendulum toward playing the season.