For student-athletes, fall sports have long been a glimmer of hope amidst a virtual spring and summer filled with cancellations. Now, that small hope seems to be fading. Many Universities, after initial pushes hinting toward in-person instruction and competition as usual beginning August, have begun releasing statements indicating that fall sports are unlikely if not already canceled.
The Ivy League, Patriot League, MEAC, Centennial Conference, and National Junior College Athletic Association have canceled all fall sports for the 2020 season. Still, more conferences like the SEC, Big 12, and PSAC have held off on any final decisions as they prepare to release final statements by the end of the month.
Marissa Watters, a swimmer at the University of the Incarnate Word, was initially shocked and understandably disappointed at the news regarding mass cancellations of fall sports. After given time to reflect, however, there appears to still be a bright side for Watters and other affected student-athletes.
“There are so many silver linings college students can look forward to such as more time to focus on academics, focus on personal and professional development, the ability to have more time for (online) community service, starting a hobby they have wanted to try, or even pick up books we always wanted to read but just didn’t have the time,” Watters said. “This is not an ideal situation by a long shot. However, I think in order to get through this, we have to look at the glimpses of hope and happiness and ride that out together.”
Conference-only play, which may be implemented in an effort to slow the transmission of COVID-19, has become a middle-ground for other schools. The Big Ten, Pac-12, and Middle Atlantic Conference have released statements noting that conference-only play will take place, with current efforts now being allocated toward the alteration of previously made schedules.
A quick look at statistics reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, that COVID-19 cases have not been contained—even among health-conscious student-athletes who have begun training for uncertain fall seasons. At Ohio State, voluntary workouts were put on hold after multiple positive COVID-19 cases resulted in immediate practice suspensions beginning July 8. The prevalence of cases within small groups that have returned to campus early is an immediate concern and a likely predictor of the virus’ threat to student-athletes and entire University populations, even as many schools continue to prepare for in-person returns to campuses.
Other Universities, like Clemson University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Maryland, have also seen positive test results following the return of student-athletes to campus for training over the summer months.
Aside from the threat of contracting the virus itself, financial burdens on fall sport modifications are another factor many schools—especially big conference schools—are actively considering. Florida State University recently announced a 20% athletics department budget cut, which is an indication of what the near future of collegiate athletics may look like for countless other Universities. Stanford University, winner of the NACDA Directors’ Cup for 25 consecutive years, announced that following the 2020-2021 academic year, 11 varsity sports programs will cease to exist. Fencing, squash, and synchronized swimming are just a few of the programs that are facing discontinuation, with the decision impacting both current and future student-athletes.
Ultimately, the deadly combination of budget cuts, campus closures, and inconsistencies in COVID-19 cases has resulted in chaos for collegiate athletics. While the cancellation of fall sports feels inevitable, plenty of uncertainty remains for what lies ahead in the 2020-2021 school year and the