The coronavirus pandemic continues to rattle the college sports landscape and leave many questions still unanswered.
But even before a new normal can begin to take shape, colleges and universities will have to find a safe way to simply reopen campuses. Complex, high-stakes public health issues need to be dealt with before there is a good sense of what college sports will look like.
Here is the latest news and updates around where things stand in college sports.
Wednesday, May 20: Ohio State game models show potential for 20,000-50,000 fans
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Wednesday that his athletic department has run several social distancing models to consider having fans in stands at games this fall, and Ohio Stadium, with a normal capacity of more than 100,000, would hold a crowd closer to 20,000-22,000 fans but up to 40,000-50,000 “if guidelines are relaxed.”
“We’ve played with that a little bit as a framework to start as we move forward and think about what we’d ultimately be allowed to do,” Smith told reporters, before later clarifying the low-end estimate in a tweet.
Ohio State athletes to start voluntary campus workouts June 8
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told reporters on Wednesday that the Buckeyes will be allowed to return to voluntary workouts on June 8, pending university approval to access the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and Shumaker buildings.
Smith said access to the facilities will be limited, and students will have to sign up to enter and go through some screening protocols like temperature checks before entering.
Voluntary on-campus activities to resume in football, basketball starting June 1, sources say
Laura Rutledge discusses how college football’s decision-makers will handle players who test positive for the coronavirus.
The NCAA Division I Council voted Wednesday to allow voluntary on-campus athletic activities to resume in football, and men’s and women’s basketball starting June 1, multiple sources confirmed to ESPN.
After the coronavirus pandemic forced the shut down of sports across the country, the council banned all on-campus athletic activities. That moratorium was set to expire May 31.
Alabama stadium renovation resumes after workers test positive for coronavirus
Renovation of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium resumed Monday after an undisclosed number of workers at the construction site tested positive for the coronavirus.
According to a statement provided by the university to ESPN, the construction company, Caddell Construction, immediately “adapted operations and processes, engaged in heightened cleaning, and took other protective measures for the health and safety of their employees” after learning of the positive tests.
Tuesday, May 19: Bowlsby: Big 12 needs to be ‘up and running’ by mid-July for college football season to start on time
The Big 12 conference doesn’t have a date yet for its sports to resume, but commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Tuesday the league needs to be “up and running” by mid-July if the college football season is going to start on time.
“If we’re not, we’re looking at probably having to delay the season a little bit,” he told ESPN, “but it’s too early to know if we’re going to be able to make that or not.”
College football is tentatively scheduled to start on Aug. 29, and while there is still no definitive timetable for college sports to return, the May 31 moratorium that was imposed in March at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic is quickly expiring.
Monday, May 18: Appeals court upholds ruling that colleges can pay for all NCAA athletes’ education expenses
A federal appeals court upheld a ruling Monday that will allow colleges to pay for any education-related expenses for student-athletes in the future.
Judge Claudia Wilken decided in March 2019 that the NCAA rules that limit what athletes can receive from their schools violated antitrust law. Wilken limited her ruling to include only benefits related to education, such as covering the costs of “computers, science equipment, musical instruments” and other similar items. She wrote that the NCAA’s unique business model justified some limits.
The NCAA appealed her decision by arguing that its current rules, which allow schools to offer athletes only a scholarship and additional cost-of-attendance stipend, were allowed under federal law. Monday’s ruling against the NCAA from the appeals court marks another significant step in the ongoing debate about fair compensation for college athletes.
Thursday, May 14: SEC to vote on whether to open athletic facilities in June
SEC presidents and chancellors are scheduled to vote May 22 on whether to allow their schools to open athletic facilities to athletes for voluntary workouts in June.
The vote would allow players to access facilities on June 1 or extend the currently imposed suspension on athletic activities further.
Power 5 commissioners confer with Roger Goodell on return from coronavirus
The Power 5 conference commissioners recently had a conference call with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and are hoping to glean some insight from the league as it takes the lead in navigating football through the coronavirus pandemic, ACC commissioner John Swofford said Thursday.
Swofford, who recently concluded virtual ACC spring meetings, told several reporters on a teleconference that the conversation with Goodell was “very positive” and that he thinks there will be more.
Wednesday, May 13: California State University system to stay online, leaving fall sports in air
Laura Rutledge and Marcus Spears break down the possibility of west coast schools playing a college football season in the spring, should schools do not fully reopen in the fall.
The 23-school California State University system will primarily remain in a virtual learning model this fall as the country continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, CSU chancellor Timothy White said Tuesday. That raises questions about the ability for member schools to field athletic teams for the rest of 2020.
At this point, there is not much clarity about what kind of impact the announcement will have on the football programs at San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State, all members of the Mountain West Conference.
Tuesday, May 12: Emmert, Pac-12, others weigh in on future plans
Paul Finebaum and Bobby Carpenter break down how it could look like free agency with Pac-12 football players requesting a transfer if the season doesn’t resume.
Will the college football season begin in late August as originally planned? It depends on whom you ask. But NCAA president Mark Emmert made it clear that the association will not be the arbiter of a cross-conference, unified plan. Emmert said earlier this month that fall sports would likely a no-go if campuses aren’t reopened.
And here’s where it again starts to get complicated: Within hours of Heather Dinich’s interview with Emmert, Pac-12’s football coaches made a unified pitch for an NCAA-mandated uniform start to the season.
The pitch might gain more merit as the days drag on — according to The Los Angeles Times, a Los Angeles County public health official said that county’s stay-at-home order is likely to extend through July. That could leave Pac-12 members USC and UCLA waiting until at least August before they begin preparing. Earlier this month, Oregon state officials advised that gatherings at sporting events should be canceled or modified through September.
Many coaches we have spoken to over the past few months have said they’d prefer six to eight weeks to prepare for the season, with the most common reason being injury prevention. Some conference commissioners, meanwhile, have said they believe a unified resumption isn’t absolutely necessary.
Other notable updates and headlines
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh discusses protocols the team is taking to protect its players and the possibility of playing football games without fans.
What about the College Football Playoff?
There are currently no plans to change the format of the four-team College Football Playoff, CFP executive director Bill Hancock said April 21 after two days of virtual CFP spring meetings.
Cancellations and reopening plans
Desmond Howard discusses the potential benefits and challenges of Power 5 conferences playing a college football season without all members.
On March 12, the NCAA announced it was canceling the 2020 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, and all other remaining sports within the 2019-20 academic year. This included baseball, beach volleyball, bowling, fencing, golf (men’s and women’s), gymnastics (men’s and women’s), ice hockey (men’s and women’s), indoor track and field, lacrosse (men’s and women’s), men’s volleyball, outdoor track and field, rifle, rowing, skiing, softball, swimming and diving (men’s and women’s), tennis (men’s and women’s), women’s water polo and wrestling.
On April 28, chief medical officers from major sports leagues participated in a call with Seema Verma, a member of the White House coronavirus task force and administrator for the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services. The call, according to a White House official, was to review how sports play a role in President Donald Trump’s plan for opening up America amid the coronavirus pandemic. Read more here.
Schools that have cut pay, programs, staff
A day after the University of Cincinnati announced it would permanently cut its men’s soccer program, a letter from five conference commissioners to NCAA president Emmert asked, in part, for the NCAA to lift rules that require Division I schools to sponsor at least 16 varsity sports.
Here are other programs that have disbanded, plus schools that have made staffing changes and pay cuts:
The NCAA announced it will allow schools to grant an additional season of eligibility to spring-sport athletes who did not get to participate in 2020. On the surface, it seems like the right thing to do, but it wasn’t a mandate. Schools have the option to do so, but the additional cost in retaining a larger roster will likely be infeasible for a significant number of schools. It’s unclear how many will take advantage of the NCAA’s offer. Wisconsin was the first major school to announce it would not seek waivers for its outgoing seniors.