Dive Brief:

  • As verified coronavirus cases steadily rise in the U.S., some college athletic conferences and institutions are scaling back fall sports.

  • The Ivy League conference, as well as two Division II and Division III leagues each announced this week they would cancel all sports, citing health concerns.

  • Some colleges have also suspended athletic activities after players tested positive for the virus. With no indication the pandemic is subsiding in the U.S., administrators are mulling whether it is safe to hold fall sports. 

Dive Insight:

Fall sports are a key consideration as colleges debate whether they can safely reopen campuses in the coming academic year. Football is a particularly lucrative source of revenue for some schools, and axing the fall season could severely dent their finances.

Administrators were optimistic about fielding fall sports. The NCAA had greenlit colleges to hold athletics activities in all Division I sports, and practices began in June. Then coronavirus cases began to spike across the country once again. 

The first major domino fell with the Ivy League on Wednesday. The conference announced it would not hold fall sports, saying it would “not be possible” for athletics programs to comply with campus health policies. 

Though the Ivy League is not among the top NCAA conferences, known as the Power Five, it is highly influential and its decisions are closely watched.

In the spring, the Ivy League was the first conference to cancel its basketball tournaments as the coronavirus spread throughout the country. The NCAA followed suit, nixing March Madness, the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

The Big Ten, one member of the Power Five, said Thursday its teams would only compete within the conference. The league contains some of the most dominating football teams in college athletics, including Ohio State and Michigan State universities. 

“By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic,” it said in a statement.

Ohio State was among the colleges this week that paused voluntary workouts after some of their student-athletes tested positive for coronavirus. It did not release the number of positive tests, citing privacy concerns. 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also halted voluntary football practices after it announced 37 tests of student-athletes and sports staff had returned positive since arriving on campus in June.

Lower divisions are also suspending fall sports. Among them are the Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, as well the Division III Centennial Conference and New England Small College Athletic Conference.

Though most of the public’s interest is centered on large athletics programs, smaller schools that depend on athletic programs for a large share of their enrollment are also affected by the cuts. 

“The main priority of the Board and conference is the safety and well-being of our students and staff,” Virginia State University President and CIAA Board Chair Makola Abdullah said in a recent statement. “Although this decision is not ideal, it does afford all of us an opportunity to continue working through best practices to ensure our communities as a whole are in the best possible position moving forward.”

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