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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Mask order applies to Big 10 football in state, though it could be altered

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing on Sept. 2. Whitmer's office said Thursday that her requirement that athletes wear masks applies to Big Ten football in Michigan, but a face shield will suffice for players and the administration is open to potentially changing the order. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP, file)

LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office said Thursday her requirement that athletes wear masks applies to Big Ten football in Michigan, but a face shield will suffice for players and the administration is open to potentially changing the order.

Her office said it will talk to the conference about the mandate, which covers organized sports in which athletes cannot keep distance “except for occasional and fleeting moments.” The state measure exempts professional sports and amateur sports like tennis, golf, cross country, baseball and softball.

The Big Ten announced Wednesday it plans to open its football season the weekend of Oct. 23-24, reversing a decision to push fall sports to the spring in the name of player safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democratic governor’s order covers both training and competition.

Mark Totten, Whitmer’s chief legal counsel, said pro athletes do not face the mask requirement because of their sports’ “very rigorous protocols.”

Asked if the order could be revised before Big Ten football starts, he told The Associated Press: “This development just came yesterday from the Big Ten. I think we’re certainly open to having conversations.”

Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown later said the state reached out to the conference “to discuss further as it may be fitting to treat the Big Ten more like professional sports — as they are very stringent and there are clear rules and guidance in place.”

The Big Ten is banking on daily testing to mitigate the risk of outbreaks. The Big Ten will begin daily antigen testing of all fall sports athletes, coaches and staff Sept. 30.

University of Michigan athletics spokesman Dave Ablauf said the Wolverines have been following the order.

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