Dive Brief: 

  • At least seven colleges have canceled their fall sports in the last two weeks out of concerns related to the coronavirus.
  • Bowdoin College, in Maine, and the University of Massachusetts Boston, were among the first schools to cancel their fall seasons. Several other institutions followed suit. 
  • Although Division I schools and many other colleges appear to be resuming sports in the fall, the recent spike in coronavirus cases in the U.S. and among student-athletes may jeopardize the season. Sports management experts and health officials are advising colleges to prioritize student safety. 

Dive Insight: 

The NCAA has approved several plans for holding fall sports, some of which incorporate policy changes meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus. However, one top health officials has voiced doubt that the fall college football season will be possible this fall, signaling that other high-contact sports could be at risk of cancellation. The NCAA president recently noted that the situation is fluid. 

Bowdoin, a Division III school, announced last week it was canceling the coming season in order to limit the number of students on campus in the fall. Only select students, including freshmen and those unable to take classes remotely, will be allowed on campus this semester. 

On the same day, UMass Boston, another Division III school, released a plan for the fall term. The campus intends to maintain remote operations this semester to protect student safety, meaning it won’t resume fall sports.

“Sadly, the virus is spreading amongst athletes in states that have opened up,” Katherine Newman, the university’s interim chancellor, wrote in a letter to campus. “We don’t want that to happen to our Beacons.” 

More than 40 colleges have had one or more student-athletes or sports staff members test positive for the virus in the past month, according to a list kept by USA Today. 

Some athletic programs have been hit particularly hard. As of last week, 47 student-athletes tested positive for the virus at Clemson University, in South Carolina, while about a quarter of Louisiana State University’s football team were quarantined because players either had contracted the virus or were in close contact with someone who had. 

Other Division III schools followed the lead of UMass Boston and Bowdoin. 

The College of New Jersey (TNCJ) nixed football, basketball and other high-contact sports for the fall term. 

In a letter to the campus Friday, TNCJ President Kathryn Foster acknowledged the move was “deeply disappointing” to student-athletes and coaches. However, she added, “high in-person contact or proximity have the greatest likelihood of broad and rapid virus spread, a circumstance that at TCNJ could mean shutdown of the campus.”

The Pratt Institute, in New York, and Williams College, in Massachusetts, have also recently announced they were canceling their fall seasons. 

These decisions could have far-reaching implications for Division III schools, which often rely on their athletic programs to recruit students. One in six students at Division III schools are athletes, compared to one in 26 at Division I schools, according to NCAA data.

Division II schools have also been canceling sports. Morehouse College, an HBCU, announced Friday that it won’t participate in football or cross-country this fall, saying it was impossible to compete without breaking social distancing guidelines. The university plans to still honor athletic scholarships, ESPN reported

And the California Collegiate Athletic Association, which is composed of 13 Division II schools, suspended fall sports in early May after the California System University, whose campuses make up most of its membership, announced the majority of its courses would be held virtually in the fall. 

The University of Michigan-Dearborn, which is planning on a hybrid semester this fall, canceled the coming season. The school’s chancellor said the campus, which is a member of the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics, is taking extra precautions because it’s located in an area of the state where cases have been concentrated, The Detroit News reported

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