HUNTINGTON — The collegiate sports landscape is becoming a little more clear in some divisions while others are still in wait-and-see mode.
On Wednesday, the NCAA Board of Governors directed schools and conferences to determine their ability to meet COVID-19-related requirements and decide on the fate of fall championships by Aug. 21.
“The first and most important consideration is whether sports can be conducted safely for college athletes,” said Michael Drake, chair of the NCAA Board of Directors and president of the University of California system. “Each division must examine whether it has the resources available to take the required precautions given the spread of COVID-19.”
Such precautions were outlined in the return-to-sport guidelines released by the NCAA weeks ago, which include guidance on testing 72 hours before competition and other safety measures.
On Wednesday, those measures were taken a step further when the NCAA Board of Directors stated that member schools, in conjunction with existing insurance standards, must cover COVID-19-related medical expenses for student-athletes to prevent out-of-pocket burdens on the athletes. It also stated that member schools are not allowed to require athletes to sign waivers that give up their legal rights regarding COVID-19 as a condition of participation.
Student-athletes are also allowed to opt out of participation due to COVID-19 concerns without it jeopardizing their athletics scholarship with a university or college.
For some divisions, that burden may be too much to bear, as was evidenced by both Division II and Division III’s quick response following the NCAA Board of Directors statement. The Division II decision came just before 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“Division II’s seven fall 2020 championships are canceled, the Division II Presidents Council decided Wednesday due to the operational, logistical and financial challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
That has a direct impact in West Virginia, where the Mountain East Conference features many of the state’s Division II programs — the University of Charleston, West Virginia State, Glenville State, Concord, West Virginia Wesleyan, Alderson Broaddus, Davis & Elkins, Fairmont State, West Liberty and Wheeling.
The MEC did not issue a statement on the council’s decision as of Wednesday evening.
Shepherd University is part of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and Ohio Valley University in Vienna is a member of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference while Salem University and Bluefield State College are independent Division II schools impacted by the decision.
Prior to the Division II decision, Division III’s Presidents Council had already announced its intention to cancel fall championships for the 2020-21 year.
“NCAA Division III fall sports for 2020-21 are canceled,” the statement read. “With the health and safety of the division’s student-athletes, coaches, athletics administrators and communities as its priority, the Division III Presidents Council made the decision Wednesday to cancel the championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related administrative and financial challenges.”
In addition to the safety measures outlined by the NCAA which caused the decisions of Division II and Division III, the NCAA Board of Governors outlined several other measures which will play into whether FBS and FCS continue with their seasons.
One interesting note was the NCAA’s requirement of each division having a concrete eligibility plan in place for college athletes who opt out of participation this fall due to COVID-19 related concerns. That plan must be in place by Aug. 14 and be directly relayed to student-athletes and their families, per the release.
“Our decisions place emphasis where it belongs — on the health and safety of college athletes,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “Student-athletes should never feel pressured into playing their sport if they do not believe it is safe to do so. These policies ensure they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about playing this fall.”
The measures taken by the NCAA came over a period in which questions surrounding player safety came to the forefront. Reports stemming from a call between SEC players and health officials gave no clear-cut answer on how player safety would be adequately addressed. Soon after, players from the Pac-12 and from the Big Ten all released sets of standards to which they wanted to see the NCAA adhere in regard to their safety while in season.
It was all part of an extremely busy Wednesday in the college sports world, with several conferences solidifying their 2020 football schedule intent.
The Big Ten released its conference-only schedule on Wednesday morning while the American Athletic Conference announced its plans to move forward with teams playing as close to a 12-game schedule as possible.
“Were not sure that our teams can get to 12 [games],” AAC commisioner Mike Aresco said in a media briefing on Wednesday afternoon. “There’s a lot that could affect that. This is the most unusual year we’ve ever faced.”
Locally, that means, as of now, Marshall’s Aug. 29 opener at East Carolina is a go. The Herd was in its first day of full pads on Wednesday.
The Mountain West Conference also announced its plans with a modified schedule: 10 games, with eight league games and two non-conference games. Marshall is also keeping an eye on that due to a scheduled Sept. 25 home date with Boise State.
There are many variables that include Boise State deciding between dropping a home game with Georgia Southern or dropping its road trip to Marshall.
According to the Idaho Press, there is a $1 million penalty for canceling the Georgia Southern game while Boise State receives $300,000 for travel to Marshall, but there is a $500,000 penalty for canceling.
Financially, the Broncos could opt to cancel BYU to avoid a payout, but that game is more regional.
The Mountain West also stated that league play will start on Sept. 19.
Boise State had a Sept. 12 conference game with Air Force scheduled, which needs to be moved.
Marshall could aid with that movement by moving the Boise State home game from Sept. 25 to Sept. 12, a slot that Marshall now has open because the ACC’s rule on playing non-conference games in-state keeps Pitt from traveling to Huntington.
Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said he has yet to hear from Boise State about its schedule, and has also not heard from Pitt following the ACC’s decision last week.
Prior to the NCAA’s release on Wednesday, Connecticut also announced that it was canceling fall sports for 2020-21, becoming the first FBS program to do so. The Huskies were transitioning from the AAC to an independent in football for 2020.