“Our greatest focus is and always has been providing the best opportunities for our student-athletes,” NJCAA President and CEO Christopher Parker said in a statement Monday. He added, “Our most recent plan of action provides a path that keeps our student-athletes competing at the highest level with proper safety measures in place.”
With football providing a vital source of revenue for many universities’ athletic departments, not to mention for many municipalities that host major programs, most NCAA Division I conferences are still hoping to play this fall. However, the Patriot League on Monday followed the Ivy League in announcing it won’t play sports this fall and will consider contesting them in the spring, with Navy and Army exempt from the decision.
“The League recognizes that any degree of non-competition this fall is deeply disappointing to our student-athletes, coaches, and fans,” the Patriot League said in a statement. “However, the health and safety of our campuses and communities must be our highest priority.”
A sharp rise nationally in coronavirus cases since June has increased doubts that football, with its large rosters and inherent inability to distance participants, can be staged safely in the fall, even at the NFL level. The issue is more acute at the college level, where there are already signs that bringing students back onto campus risks major spikes in cases.
“Right now, I don’t see a path in the current environment to how we play,” an unidentified athletic director for a Power Five school said to Yahoo Sports in comments published Monday. “I’m confident we’ll get back to what we all think of as normal, but it may be a year before that happens.”
“Ultimately, no one is playing football in the fall,” a person described as a high-ranking college official told the website.
Of the Power Five conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 have announced they plan to eliminate all nonconference games for their fall sports this year. The ACC, Big 12 and SEC have said they plan to wait until late July before making any major decisions.
After a meeting Monday of SEC athletic directors, Commissioner Greg Sankey reiterated that timetable but also said in a statement, “It is clear that current circumstances related to COVID-19 must improve and we will continue to closely monitor developments around the virus on a daily basis.”
“Time is an asset that’s rapidly slipping away,” Sankey said in a subsequent radio interview, adding that the SEC was not ready to move to conference-only scheduling. “ … The fact we’ve seen increasing cases over the last few weeks across our region is not a positive indicator.”
Asked what would have him feeling encouraged about playing this fall, Sankey replied, “We need to see the ability for our hospitals and our health-care systems to manage covid-19.”
In the NJCAA’s updated plan, distance running events can proceed as scheduled this fall, as well as Division III women’s tennis. In addition to basketball, winter sports such as wrestling, swimming and diving will start in January, and most will have their championships pushed back from March to April.
The NJCAA football championship is set for June 3, 2021, with a maximum of eight games played through May 22.
“I’m just excited we didn’t cancel the year,” said Carl Heinrich (via kansas.com), commissioner of the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, an NJCAA league. “That would have been pretty devastating for a lot of schools. We all want sports back, but we don’t want to hurry it and risk losing it for a year.
“To me, this is much better than trying to give it a shot this fall and getting two weeks in and having to cancel the whole season. This give us six months to work and plan and hopefully create a safe environment for our student-athletes and fans.”