College football begins this weekend in Michigan. Michigan State University plays Furman on Friday night, and University of Michigan begins its season against Hawaii on Saturday.
MSU had a strong season last year, appearing in the NCAA college football playoff. Yet the Spartans are ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press preseason poll. That’s behind Michigan (No. 7), which was defeated by MSU last year.
“They play with a chip on their shoulder,” says WDET’s Pat Batcheller says of State. “That’s what Mark Dantonio has brought to this program.”
U of M is expected to do well, in part, because of the reputation Coach Jim Harbaugh has established as an ambitious and capable leader. But Michigan does have a few tough games on the road this season, including against MSU and rival Ohio State.
“A defense is what wins those games on the road,” says Detroit News sports columnist John Niyo. ”That’s where this season will be decided for Michigan.”
Football, arguably America’s favored sport, has faced scrutiny in recent years as the medical community provides mounting evidence of the dangers the sport presents to brain health and function. Helmets cannot fully protect players from repeated large- and small-scale tackles that jar the brain within the scull, and can lead to damage of the brain known as CTE.
“That makes it really hard [to be a fan],” says Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson, a fan and alum of University of Michigan. “It sort of eats at me that this is not safe.”
Niyo says what makes realizations about the dangers of football particularly concerning is the fact that college players are also not compensated for putting their bodies in harm’s way for the financial gain of the learning institutions.
“It’s certainly something that’s top of mind now,” says Niyo. “I don’t know that we’re going to get anywhere closer to that.”
Batcheller says until fans stop paying money to go see football games, and parents stop letting their sons play the sport, that’s when change will happen. He concedes that will be a long way off if it happens.
To hear more of the conversation on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.