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Michigan's governor provides clarity on if mask mandate during competition applies to Big Ten

Earlier this week, just days before the official return of Big Ten football, I posed the question on what would happen for Michigan and Michigan State if Big Ten schools were able to play this fall. Would the Wolverines and Spartans be required to wear masks during games, and would their opponents traveling to Ann Arbor and East Lansing be required to do the same?

As a refresher, one of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer's most recent executive orders requires that athletes who cannot maintain the 6-foot social distancing guidelines in practices and competitions, "except for occasional and fleeting moments," wear masks. Varsity programs in Michigan will take the field for the first time tonight wearing required to wear some type of mask covering their nose or mouth on the inside of the cage of their helmet.

But back to the Big Ten, as conversations started to heat up surrounding the league's return to play earlier this week, I reached out a few coaches and staffers at Michigan and Michigan. No one had a clear answer on if they'd be the only teams in college football required to wear a mask during games by executive order, although Michigan has the Splash Shields on the upper and lower parts of the cages in their helmets as well as neck gaitors on their players.

Yesterday, Whitmer's office provided some clarity on that topic, noting that the requirement, in fact does currently extend to Big Ten football in Michigan. However, it was also noted that a face shield will work and that her office is "open to potentially changing the order," according to Wood TV 8.

The state has reached out to the conference to have further discussions on the topic, the article points out, and they may end up following the lead of the NFL, where masks are not required. Why is that? Well, according to Whitmer's chief legal counsel Mark Totten, it's because of the NFL's "very rigorous protocols."

Like high school has been since the news broke that football was back this fall, Big Ten coaches and players will be ready and willing to do whatever they need to do to return. By and large, coaches and kids at the high school level have worked diligently to find a mask that works best for them, and are ready to play. Big Ten programs will do the same.

Where it gets interesting for me is if the Buckeyes or Nittany Lions travel to East Lansing or Ann Arbor and are "required" to wear a mask. Taking that a step further, who at the stadium is going to enforce that executive order? It won't be the officials, because it's not part of the playing rules that govern the sport.

If conversations continue and the Big Ten ends up not having to wear a mask while high schoolers are required to, there will be some natural pushback. But it is important to keep in mind the testing and other protocols in place at the NFL and college level that aren't being done at the high school level.

Read more from Wood TV here.

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