In ordinary times, last week’s announcement from the Ivy League would not even register as a blip on the radar. The message seemed simple enough. Just two sentences. A statement about a future statement.
“With return to campus protocols still being developed and introduced by Ivy League institutions, the Council of Ivy League Presidents intends to announce a final decision regarding the status of intercollegiate athletic activity for the Fall Term 2020 on July 8.
“That decision will be communicated first to Ivy League directors of athletics, coaches and student-athletes, followed by the wider Ivy League campus community, media, alumni and the public.”
But these are not ordinary times.
One scenario reportedly being considered by schools nationwide is no sports for the rest of the calendar year. If that were to be the case, football would be a spring sport, with the Ivies eschewing nonconference games and playing just a seven-game league schedule.
According to The Athletic, multiple coaches in the Ivy League believe that’s what will be revealed Wednesday.
Of course, to do so brings its own issues. Fans would still likely not be allowed in the spring, at least not at full capacity. Compounding that revenue loss would be the additional cost of traveling while social distancing. No more players and coaches sitting next to each other on buses, with athletes potentially housed one to a room when staying at a hotel on overnight trips.
As the clock ticks down to Wednesday’s announcement, the rest of the NCAA will be very interested observers. One only needs to go back to earlier this year to understand why.
On March 10, the Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments that were scheduled for the following weekend due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The decision was pilloried by some as being excessive, but the next day, it was clear that it was a harbinger of what was in store across the country.
The Harvard men’s hockey team was the next to pull the plug on its season, withdrawing from its ECAC quarterfinal series on March 11. The Ivy League also canceled the spring sports season. Within 24 hours, all conference tournaments, as well as NCAA championships, were canceled.
Four months later, the situation is eerily similar as schools are running out of time on when to make decisions regarding fall sports. For many across the country, the football season will begin Sept. 5, with most schools are already holding voluntary workouts.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that with cases of coronavirus rising in the South and West, some governors hoped that the threat of a canceled college football season would encourage residents to follow public health guidelines, such as wearing masks in public.
While it won’t be confused with the SEC and the Pac-12, the Ivy League does have three of its schools located in and around major cities: Harvard (Cambridge), Columbia (New York), and Penn (Philadelphia). Yale (New Haven) and Brown (Providence), are also in densely populated cities, while Cornell (Ithaca, N.Y.), Dartmouth (Hanover, N.H.), and Princeton (N.J.) are in less-populated settings.
Locally, Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern plan on reopening classrooms and residence halls to students in the fall. (Of the three, only BC has a football program, but both NU and BU have other Division 1 fall sports.)
Harvard announced this week that only 40 percent of undergrads will be on campus, which would seem to indicate that fall sports would not be an option in Cambridge. Yale has stated that three classes of students will be in residence each semester.
Brown announced Tuesday that it will have trimesters this school year to reduce the number of students on campus, with freshmen waiting until spring to start classes. Dartmouth’s plan is to bring back more than half of its undergraduates for the fall term. At Princeton, first-year students and juniors will be allowed to return to campus for the fall.
To be determined is the fate of the winter sports, such as basketball and hockey, which begin practice in the early fall. Some leagues are considering playing abbreviated league schedules beginning in January, forgoing postseason conference tournaments and letting the regular season determine who would reach the respective NCAA tournaments.
But Wednesday’s announcement is expected to deal only with the fall sports season, which, for the Ivy League, includes football, field hockey, soccer, cross-country, and volleyball.
Whether the larger conferences would be willing to postpone the football season to the spring of 2021 remains to be seen, but they learned earlier this year it would not be wise to simply dismiss a decision from the Ivy League.