There is a hard truth ahead of us.
The 2020-2021 collegiate athletic seasons may very well be lost.
With a COVID-19 vaccine still expected 12-18 months away and disease transmission still largely fueled by physical contact between people, Universities, sports leagues (and fans) will likely not take the risk of filling stadiums and arenas until such risk has been effectively mitigated. Administrators (and parents) are also not likely to want to expose student-athletes to travel, cramped locker rooms and contact sports with the associated risks. The same concerns extend to the wider University of Denver community — as it may well need to reduce potential liability through exposure in classrooms, common areas, busy dorms, and social interactions. Therefore, it is possible, if not probable, that much of the next school year could be held online, rather than in-person.
History shows us pandemics come in waves. The 1918 Spanish Flu, for example, first occurred in the spring and came roaring back in the fall. The lowest US Government projections suggest the death toll in the US from the COVID-19 will be between 100,000-200,000 people, and some models suggest an even higher death toll. How responsible and costly could it be for universities to resume collegiate athletics for colleges and universities only to have to stop them again in a new wave of disease? For college football for example, how can anyone reasonably expect CU gridiron fans packing into Folsom Field this September? Or athletes practicing in July, 4-6 weeks before the season begins? As for DU, men’s and women’s soccer begins in August. Are DU athletes going to be getting on planes, staying in hotels, sharing locker rooms and making contact on the field? Is DU willing to assume the liability and, potentially, place these athletes at risk? If just a few schools decided to shut down their athletic operations in 2020-2021, the rest are almost certain to follow. College Hockey News also recently discussed these potential losses.
The canary in the coal mine may be professional basketball, baseball, and football. All three sports have expressed an interest in operating this fall. Should professional sports cease operation, colleges are certain to follow, especially if their main money-maker, football, is at risk. Then, if college basketball faces cancellation later in the late fall, expect administrators to pull the plug as they would lose significant funding for non-revenue sports from the NCAA basketball tournament.
The NCAA could also decide to cancel fall exhibitions and non-conference games and take a wait-and-see approach with the idea of starting the seasons with only conference tilts. This would ‘buy time’ and save travel costs on many of the non-revenue sports, outside college football.
This scenario would have seemed impossible to comprehend a few months ago, but as the current pandemic sweeps across the country, collegiate athletics is falling into the shadows as we the face the larger medical, social, and economic realities of our society in a pandemic.
And even when sports do eventually resume, the NCAA Division I model is certain to come under the microscope at all levels as colleges and universities face budget uncertainties and new priorities well into the future.
Yes, it is too early to say for certain that all this will happen. However, the scales are beginning to tip in that direction. It is a sobering time.