The Ivy League won’t have any sports this fall, and the return of athletics in the conference won’t be entertained until January at the earliest.
The decision announced Wednesday removes the league’s entire fall football season, the first Division I conference to do so. The decision comes as other athletic departments and college conferences nationwide weigh whether to begin the 2020 football season on time, and is seen by some as a bellwether of what’s to come.
Wednesday’s announcement also means men’s basketball — which typically begins in November — will not start for the conference until Jan. 1 at the earliest.
A decision from the Ivy League on the remaining winter and spring sports calendar, and whether fall sports would be feasible in the spring, will be determined later.
“With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk, consistent with the policies that each of our schools is adopting as part of its reopening plans this fall,” the Ivy League Council of Presidents said in a joint statement.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ivy League has often set the tone for the direction of collegiate sports.
On March 10, the Ivy League was the first to cancel its men’s basketball tournament. The next day, it canceled all winter and spring sports. At the time, both decisions were met with widespread scrutiny.
But by March 12, all other conferences canceled their basketball tournaments. The NCAA also scrapped all remaining winter and spring sports championships, including the NCAA basketball tournaments and College World SerieAttention now turns to power conferences, which have been debating what to do with fall sports, particularly football.
Football in the Ivy League does not mirror most power-conference programs.
Student-athletes are not on athletic scholarships, teams play fewer games and do not participate in the postseason. Revenue from home games in the Ivy League doesn’t compare to that of a school like Nebraska, which funds much of its athletic department with money generated from football Saturdays.
This summer, conference commissioners from the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and ACC have all expressed optimism that football could start on time. That belief has been shared even as coronavirus cases were confirmed during voluntary workouts, and even as schools like Ohio State, Kansas, Kansas State, Houston and North Carolina were forced to shut down workouts after reporting high numbers of positive cases within their programs.
Scott Frost told The World-Herald last week that eight people in the Nebraska athletic department have tested positive for coronavirus out of more than 250 tests conducted since early April.
“What we’re planning is to start on time,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in June on HBO’s “Real Sports.”
“But there’s so many parts, this is a fluid situation.”s.
Optimism has shrunk in recent weeks as coronavirus cases have spiked in pockets of the country, especially Texas, Florida and California — three states with a combined 25 FBS programs in eight conferences. Average daily case totals in the U.S. have risen for 29 straight days. Total deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have reached more than 130,000, though there has not yet been a spike associated with the recent increase of cases.
“We said from the onset of this pandemic that circumstances around the virus would guide our decision-making, and it is clear recent developments related to COVID-19 have not been trending in the right direction,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement to ESPN this week.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told the San Jose Mercury News last Thursday if there was no change in society’s response and behavior to quickly flatten the curve, “that would lead to a much more pessimistic view about our campuses being able to open and our ability to play sports.”
Most college football games remain on the calendar as scheduled, but it’s unclear if those will be played or when announcements will be made on a decision. At the moment, teams are able to hold voluntary workouts, lift weights and review film. On July 24, teams will be able to participate in walk-throughs and have team meetings for up to 20 hours a week. Preseason practice can begin Aug. 7.
Frost told The World-Herald last week that the general feeling regarding if there will be football has changed “two dozen times” this summer.
“Recently, we feel like there’s going to be football, we’re just not sure what that’s going to look like,” Frost said.
Nebraska has been preparing contingency plans for different scenarios, Frost said, including a spring season or a conference-only slate. Frost said that “zero percent” of Big Ten coaches would be in favor of an all-league schedule, though there have been reports indicating that’s a possibility.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley told Yahoo last week that, if absolutely needed, spring football is “very doable.”
The logistics, though, are much different than the Ivy League, which would need seven or eight weeks to complete a season. The major conferences typically play up to 12 games in a full season.
If the football season occurs in the spring, questions then arise as to when the next season could begin, and if student-athletes would have enough time to recover between the end of a season in May and start of the next season in the fall.
“This season is going to be different, we might as well come to terms with that,” Riley said. “If we do decide that the spring is the best option, if we get to that point, we shouldn’t be scared of it.”