Stephens, Schor, 10 Other Big Ten Mayors Send Letter to Conference About Covid

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East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens (photo by Raymond Holt for ELi) and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor (photo provided by the office of Sen. Debbie Stabenow).

A group of 12 mayors representing the cities of 10 different Big Ten universities sent a letter to the conference office on Monday, requesting the league take on two significant measures to mitigate the associated Covid-19 risk for their local communities. 

The letter asks that Big Ten establish guidelines for holding games based on “positivity rates of the community, not just the team” and to avoid playing primetime games, which lead to increased activity locally compared to day games.

The following Mayors signed the letter:

  • Aaron Stephens, Mayor of East Lansing;
  • Andy Schor, Mayor of Lansing;
  • Christopher Taylor, Mayor of Ann Arbor;
  • John Dennis, Mayor of West Lafayette, Indiana;
  • Ronald Filippelli, Mayor of State College, Pennsylvania;
  • Satya Rhodes-Conway, Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin;
  • Patrick L. Wojahn, Mayor of College Park, Maryland;
  • Steve Hagerty, Mayor of Evanston, Illinois;
  • Jacob Frey, Mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota;
  • John Hamilton, Mayor of Bloomington, Indiana
  • Andrew Ginther, Mayor of Columbus, Ohio; and
  • Bruce Teague, Mayor of Iowa City, Iowa

“While we are all excited for football games to begin,” the letter reads, in part, “we must accept that this activity poses potential new obstacles as we attempt to slow the spread of this virus.”

Week 1 for the league is Oct. 24, and Michigan State will host Rutgers at noon in Spartan Stadium to open the season.

The Big Ten announced it was reinstating the football season on Sept. 16, 2020, outlining testing protocols and the various thresholds that will affect decision making. Starting on Sept. 30, according to a Big Ten press release, daily testing began, and was required for, “student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games.”

Among that population, the Big Ten will monitor team positivity rate (number of positive tests divided by the number of tests administered) and population positivity rate (number of positive individuals divided by total population at risk). The “population at risk” is the different groups being tested by universities — players, coaches, trainers, etc. — and doesn’t include local residents. 

Different ranges for each metric are classified by color — green, orange and red — that guide decision making. Part of the press release, included below, explains how that works.

But those data points are derived wholly from tests administered by each university to its football personnel and the various other folks needed — media, TV cameramen, grounds crew, etc. — to put on a televised football game. The letter sent on Monday is seeking for the Big Ten to define similar metrics for the cities schools are located in.

According to the letter, various county and city health officials from Big Ten communities met on Thursday, Oct. 15, to “further discuss metrics used in each community” and asks the conference to work with local officials to establish necessary metrics and thresholds.

East Lansing has seen a spike in Covid-19 cases since the return of many MSU students, despite the university’s decision not to hold in-person classes. As recently as last week, Covid-related hospitalizations were on the rise in Ingham County.

Contributed by an ELi reader

A St. Patrick’s Day party on Gunson Street in March 2020, when MSU went to all-online classes.

“We do not expect this metric to be in line with the current standard for the team; however, similar standards being applied to the communities this will affect is necessary to keep people safe,” the letter reads.

The letter also asks the league to “release game times and schedules as early as possible and make it a priority to host less or no games that take place in the evening or late afternoon, as these start times are associated with increased activity.” 

While the league does, generally, have control over scheduling — particularly this year as the Big Ten is playing a conference-only slate — the start times are heavily influenced by the different TV networks airing them. (For example: ABC is broadcasting Michigan at Minnesota at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 24, in Minneapolis. It is highly unlikely that the game would be moved for anything short of a significant Covid outbreak.) 

Further, the networks also have a say on the start time itself and don’t usually set them until two weeks or even a week before. This is to give flexibility so a better matchup can be moved to primetime. 

This letter is asking the league, and therefore the TV partners, to nix some of that scheduling flexibility and shy away from their money-making time slots for games.

Stephens alluded to the meeting of several representatives from Big Ten cities at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, mentioning he had a call set up for later in the week. On Friday, the group met and drafted the letter. 

“We must come together to share ideas, come up with creative solutions and make sure our communities stay safe and healthy,” the letter reads at the top. “We are at a pivotal moment in history, and protecting our community members should be, and is, our top priority.” 

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