COVID-19 has changed how schools approach every aspect of the campus experience.
For students who are sports fans, the inability to attend games and be a part of the joy, pride, and enthusiasm of collegial sports has them thinking twice about attending college where sports are a selling point.
And for student athletes, their future remains uncertain in several ways, including financially, since most college athletes rely on athletic scholarships; emotionally, because their dreams are on hold; and physically, because they’ve been training for years and may not be able to keep up their fitness and skill levels at home.
So come fall 2020, will colleges be, as the Twitter hashtag that’s resulted from this situation…#sportsless?
Here’s a roundup of news and opinions on the topic.
Is College Without Sports Unthinkable?
According to NCAA President Mark Emmert, who spoke on the NCAA Twitter channel recently, if the coronavirus closes campuses in the fall–that is, if students are not physically on campus–the NCAA will not play fall sports.
As to when that decision about closings will happen, he says hopefully by mid-to-late-June, based on data that schools have at that time.
This timeline will be the deciding point for athletics as well, though for basketball, it may be as late as Sept. 1.
A few hours earlier, Big East commissioner Val Ackerman had voiced a similar opinion, but it’s not one shared by every conference.
According to the New York Post, “Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said that online classes would be ‘satisfactory’ to being able to bring student-athletes back to campus for fall sports.”
Emmert, in the NCAA Twitter interview, went on to further clarify: “That doesn’t mean [schools have] to be up and running in the full normal model, but you’ve got to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students,” he said. “So, if a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports. It’s really that simple.”
On the topic of reopening, Bloomberg reports that potential strategies have been laid out by testing czar Brett Giroir for students to return to college campuses, “including quick on-site screening, surveillance testing of students at different times as a way of monitoring the virus’s circulation, pooling samples from patients to stretch tests further and even looking for signs of coronavirus in campus wastewater.” It’s still unclear whether this will be feasible.
The NCAA recently released a statement about how they envision the reopening of sports at schools. “The NCAA’s COVID-19 Advisory Panel of leading medical, public health and epidemiology experts led by NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline has put together nine core principles to help guide institutions as they answer these challenging questions.
The document, “Resocialization in Sport,” takes into consideration federal recommendations, relying on experts, data, and science, and puts the health, safety, and well-being of student-athletes and the needs of the membership first.”
Students and Parents Voice Their Opinions
Uncertain about how the pandemic will continue to affect sports, student athletes have been working to stay in shape and maintain a positive attitude about the future. Still, it hasn’t been easy.
A survey by the Harris Poll on behalf of TD Ameritrade shows “nearly two thirds of competitive athletes say they feel like they’ve lost a piece of their identity with their sport being cancelled during this time (61%) and that they can’t remember the last time they went this long without playing their sport (64%).”
In addition, “56% believe cancelling sports this season could put their college scholarships at risk,” and “47% are worried losing a season of their sport or time away from their team will have irreparable damage on their future.”
Ira Graham, a track and field athlete and high school senior, had hoped to attract college recruiters this spring.
Instead, after everything was cancelled, he told The Columbus Dispatch, “I feel like I’ve lost everything I worked for the past three years.”
The NCAA recently conducted some video interviews with student athletes and posted them to their site.
Parents have also felt the effects of not having their kids play sports.
In an essay for Grown and Flown, Melissa Fenton says, “There is an unspoken camaraderie amongst moms and dads on the sidelines that I’ve realized I miss more than I thought I would.”
From our Paying For College 101 Facebook Group, parents had a lot to say about the impact of the virus on their kids who are athletes.
Here are some highlights (lightly edited for clarity and length):
I have a rising senior who wrestles and is hoping to wrestle in college. The season was cancelled, and we’re finding a lot of camps and off-season tournaments are as well. He has no one to train with, and the weights we have at home aren’t sufficient for a great workout. He’s doing what he can, but I worry it’s not enough. This spring and summer were to set up his senior year, and they’re pretty much shot. Meg
My son is a high school senior who is set to play D3 soccer next year. This was supposed to have been his last season playing club soccer. He gets up every day and works out and goes for a run, and then spends time in the backyard working on his skills. But, of course, it’s no substitute for playing the game he loves with the team he loves. Ilisa
The high school season is canceled. Our club league has been on indefinite hold and our senior daughter has been meeting weekly with her team and with the college team that she’s playing for in the fall (assuming there is a fall season). She trained weekly with a former professional player — that’s been on hold and finally starting to resume this week. Workouts have been self-led and she often ends the day with yoga, which helps her focus and manage the stress of the lost season and possibility of missing the second season. She has played year-round (minus July) for nearly ten years so this is wildly unnerving. Nichole
My daughter is a 2020 track thrower. She can’t be on our track because it’s locked up tight as are all the other tracks in our county. She’s still lifting and training, her coach is texting her workouts. She has also signed with a school in California. Hopefully, she gets to start in the fall as planned. School isn’t promising on campus housing as of now, so we’ll see. Becky
My junior son plays lacrosse. This was going to be his high school season to get “noticed” but the season was cancelled. He was supposed to play in front of a ton of college coaches this summer but it’s all on hold. I’m wondering if a short highlight reel will be enough. Jill
A friend’s son was offered a walk-on spot on a college baseball team. The coach contacted him early to let him know that many seniors are red-shirting this cancelled season and no walk-on spot is available for next year. Nena
The Financial Impact
In addition to the emotional effect on fans and players, there’s also the question of the financial impact of a sportsless campus.
The answer varies by school, though overall, according to the New York Times, “The stoppage of highly lucrative sports programs has been part of a broader fallout for colleges, which have taken hits to tuition, room and board, and even federal funding.”
USA Today reports that not having college football games “could cause significant financial turmoil for large college athletic departments, which rely extensively on football revenue to fund other programs.
But for non-Power 5, Division I schools, no football is not a doomsday financial scenario at all. In fact, those schools would likely be just fine — financially — without fall athletics.”
From the Chronicle of Higher Education: “The financial implications of such disruption are likely to be enormous, and — for big-time programs — compounded by the cancellation of the March Madness basketball tournament, the NCAA’s biggest revenue driver. Athletics departments are already announcing multimillion-dollar shortfalls and job cuts.
This week, the Florida Institute of Technology announced the elimination of its football program. And on Tuesday, California State University-East Bay announced that its fall season, along with that of all California Collegiate Athletic Association institutions, had been canceled.”
Some sports at other schools have been dropped, including wrestling at Old Dominion and men’s soccer at Cincinnati and at University of Akron, the elimination of its men’s golf, women’s tennis, and men’s cross country teams.
For now, we can only wait and see, and hope that sports will resume soon.
The presentation may look different, and the rules may be different, but sports will make a comeback.
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