The Mid-American Conference postponed its football season, the conference announced Saturday, becoming the first Football Bowl Subdivision league to decide not to hold games this fall because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The conference canceled all fall competition, affecting about 2,500 athletes in football, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s cross-country and field hockey. The MAC has not made a decision about winter sports, such as men’s and women’s basketball, which typically begin in November. A statement from the conference indicated athletes in fall sports might get a chance to compete in the spring of 2021.

“The decision is grounded in the core values of the Conference that prioritize student-athlete well-being, an area the MAC has traditionally taken a leadership role,” Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a statement. “Clearly, we are charting a conservative path — and it is one that has been recommended by our medical advisory group.”

The MAC is one of 10 conferences in the FBS, the top tier of college football. Twelve schools play in the MAC — Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo and Western Michigan. The conference’s Council of Presidents voted unanimously to postpone fall sports.

Power Five schools have developed protocols that require frequent testing, which is necessary to return to competition safely. But administering that many tests would be a significant financial burden for FBS schools not in the Power Five.

Many MAC schools rely on the revenue generated through guarantee games — when a Power Five school pays another program to play it during the nonconference schedule. Most of these games have been canceled because all of the Power Five leagues have chosen to play one or zero nonconference games this season.

“This was not an easy decision but one that we had to make in the best interest of our student-athletes, coaches and institutions,” David Sayler, Miami’s athletic director and the MAC Chair of the Council of Director of Athletics, said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to give our student-athletes an experience that allows them to participate at the highest level in the safest manner possible. After consulting with our Medical Advisory Panel, we felt there were just too many unknowns surrounding the pandemic for us to proceed with the fall season.”

On Wednesday, Connecticut became the first FBS school to cancel its 2020 season, which would have been the school’s first as a college football independent. The MAC’s decision not to play football this fall could open the door for conferences around the country to make similar decisions. Division II and Division III fall championships already have been canceled.

All of the Power Five conferences have adjusted their schedules for the 2020 season. The Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 will play only conference games. The Big 12 and ACC have room on their schedules for one nonconference matchup. Without the usual supply of nonconference games, college football independents have scrambled to fill their schedules.

Some athletes around the country have expressed concerns about safety this season, particularly because medical professionals still do not know much about the lasting effects of the coronavirus. Football players from the Pac-12, Big Ten and Mountain West have released unified statements asking their conferences for improved health protocols.

The Big Ten said in a statement Saturday morning that, until further notice, football players can only practice with helmets and no pads. The Big Ten season is set to begin the weekend of Sept. 5, and teams returned to practice this week.

The NCAA has said athletes who choose not to play this year will have their scholarships honored by their schools. However, athletes are still concerned about how a shortened season could affect their eligibility. More than 30 football players from the Power Five conferences have opted out of the season.

Professional sports in the United States have returned this summer, but some leagues have housed their athletes and played games inside a bubble, an insular environment where players and personnel do not have contact with the public.

College football, on the other hand, is planning to play its games in its usual venues — albeit with no fans or limited attendance, depending on local guidelines. With players still attending in-person classes at some schools and then congregating for meetings and practices, concern is high that the virus could spread quickly within a program.

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