As the basketball season for other Division I colleges staggers toward its conclusion and lower-division schools begin spring football campaigns, some college coaches and players fear the Ivy League will skip spring sports entirely.
The conference has given no firm deadline on when it will decide to play or not. Meanwhile, athletes are left to wait, unable to compete and their ability to hold formal practices or access training facilities varying by school.
John Torroella, a pitcher on Brown’s baseball team, argued on Twitter that the conference has had nearly a year to structure a modified season but that its indecision has left athletes and coaches in limbo. His school’s men’s and women’s lacrosse teams started the social media hashtag #LetTheLeaguePlay and have garnered more than 10,000 signatures for a change.org petition to the conference administration to allow spring sports.
In January, Yale baseball captain Cal Christofori wrote an open letter to the Ivy League Council of Presidents lobbying for a spring season. His former teammate Ben Wanger, who now plays at Miami as a graduate transfer, told the Yale Daily News that several athletes reached out to him to inquire about the graduate transfer process. Wanger has also been vocal about the issue on social media.
“Hey @IvyLeague — when are you going to let your Spring athletes know if there’s going to be a season? Or do you plan on leaving your athletes out to dry again this year?” he tweeted last month. “I’ve spoken with several Ivy League athletes who plan on withdrawing if there is no season — not fair to keep them in limbo this long. Give them all the info so they can make their own decisions.”
The Ivy League last year nixed its men’s basketball tournament March 10, a day before the NBA shut down and two days before the NCAA scuttled its winter and spring sports championships for the 2019-20 academic year. The Ivy League opted out of fall sports in July, before other conferences suspended or altered their schedules.
In November, the Ivy League Council of Presidents canceled winter sports two weeks before the college basketball season began. It declined to move fall sports to the spring and postponed spring sports through at least the end of February.
It updated that guidance last month in a statement to coaches and student-athletes, reiterating that a final decision on the spring season is forthcoming and that a potential spring sports season would feature “likely significantly curtailed competition schedule[s].”
“The League continues to monitor and evaluate where the COVID-19 trends currently stand as well as where our campus policies are and how each affects a potential return to competition for the spring,” Matt Panto, the Ivy League’s associate executive director for strategic communications, said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Some student-athletes relocated well before the Ivy League’s most recent guidance to stay in shape or extend their careers. Others who chose to wait have not had their patience rewarded. The conference’s memo came weeks before many student-athletes must decide whether to enroll for the spring semester, which varies by school, and risk losing a year of eligibility even if they don’t play.
Yale men’s lacrosse coach Andy Shay said those pressures — his school’s enrollment deadline and uncertainty about whether the conference would have a season — pushed most of his players not to enroll this semester, sidelining the team for 2021 regardless of the Ivy League’s decision, according to the Daily News.
Nineteen Princeton women’s lacrosse players made a similar decision, taking leave from the university and opting out of the 2021 season in September because of the uncertainty, U.S. Lacrosse magazine noted.
Frustration about the uncertain future also vexed some alumni.
Bob Warden, a former kicker for Brown’s football team, and his wife, Margaret Smith Walden, a former Yale hockey player, pushed the Ivy League Council of Presidents for a return to competition in January, according to Sports Business Journal. Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, a former Yale lacrosse player, is among several Ivy League graduates who have pledged to lobby university presidents.
The Ivy League is the only Division I conference that has yet to hold an athletic competition this academic year. Bethune-Cookman is believed to be the first Division I school to cancel sports for the entire academic year. Maryland Eastern Shore, a fellow member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, did the same in November. But the Patriot League, which seemed to move in lockstep behind the Ivy last year, resumed its basketball season and announced scheduling plans for spring sports in January.
The Ivy League, however, does not appear prepared to deviate from its deliberation. Robin Harris, the executive director of the Ivy League Council of Presidents, speaks for conference presidents on athletic matters. She told Sports Business Journal that she has gotten pushback from athletes, parents and alumni, but “we need to see a noticeable decline in virus trends” before the conference returns to play.
“The issue really comes down to campus safety,” she said. “Competition itself may not lead to higher rates of transmission, which is great, but there are still restrictions on travel and what they can do on campus. We are seeing nationally that teams have to pause because of transmissions away from the field. … What our presidents are focused on is the campus because those team members are students and they live with other students who are not necessarily on the team, and that could cause a spread throughout campus. So that’s the concern.”