The commissioners of the nation’s major college football conferences held a 30-minute conference call Wednesday with Vice President Mike Pence and stressed that college sports cannot return from the COVID-19 shutdown until campuses have re-opened, according to an ABC news article. And, the same, likely, holds true for all other universities and sports.
While professional baseball and basketball are considering playing in front of empty stands at distant locales (Florida, Arizona and Las Vegas), college AD’s and Presidents will have none of it.
To make matters even more complex, different states may have different policies and guidelines around COVID-19 which could influence a number of interstate games during non-conference and conference seasons. Finally, each university may have its own unique policies and procedures to deal with the ongoing impacts of the virus.
The financial implications may have an even more far-reaching impact on athletics. The New York Times reported a petition from five conference commissioners asking for NCAA reforms such as the requirement that they sponsor a minimum of 16 sports for DI participation, scholarship minimums and a temporary hold on the addition of any new DI members. The University of Cincinnati, a member of the American Athletic Conference, cut its men’s soccer team and Old Dominion dumped wrestling. Other programs are closely examining travel expenses and scheduling more regional and home and away tilts.
As for Summit League, there is no formal word yet on St. Thomas’ application to the NCAA to make the jump to Division I. A vote was originally scheduled for April but that vote has been delayed due to more pressing issues. And Augustana, another school said to have an inside track on Summit League membership, has made no public statements on their ambitious plans since early March.
Clearly, the current Summit League member at greatest risk is Western Illinois University. It has already been reported that WIU was already on the ropes and now the State of Illinois may be facing a potential loss of 8-14 billion dollars according to the Chicago Tribune. The Presidents from Illinois public university system are appealing to congressional leaders for additional federal support during the coronavirus pandemic but that is likely to be a drop in the bucket. And, expect the Western Athletic Conference (WAC’) most fragile member, Chicago State, to be at risk of being taken off life support as the state slashes budgets.
Athletics will be in limbo for quite a long time to come and rightfully so. The immediate focus of college administrators is about the fundamental functioning of higher-learning institutions and worries about enrollment numbers, the health of faculty, students, employment, all of it. As it should be. Athletics should always take a backseat to that.