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It’s Time To Talk About How COVID-19 is Going to Affect Fall Sports and Higher Education

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Florida State v Boston College Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

We’re just about two months removed from when the sports world, and really the world at large, came to a grinding halt in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Since then, the public has been exposed to a whirlwind of shutdowns and changes in the attempt to contain the virus.

Now, as some states are moving towards reopening, the public view has shifted towards what can and cannot be done amidst this global pandemic. This is obviously a complicated question, but the answer has ramifications for how the college sports world can react.

The news, recently, has not been promising for an on-time resumption of fall sports. In testimony in front of the United States Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, Dr. Anthony Fauci testified that he believed a vaccine or even a therapeutic treatment was “a bridge too far” for when college campuses open in the fall.

Possibly in reaction to that news, the California State University system announced Tuesday afternoon that almost all classes will be held online during the fall semester, effectively closing the 23-campus system that includes three schools with FBS programs, and a number of others that play sports at the Division I level.

NCAA president Mark Emmert had announced May 8th that schools needed to reopen in order for games to happen at each member institution.

“If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus,” Emmert told the Associated Press. “That doesn’t mean it has to be up and running in the full normal model, but you’ve got to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students. So if a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports. It’s really that simple.”

This all leads back to the original question of where intercollegiate athletics will be in the fall when sports are primed to resume. While the California State University system (not to be confused with the University of California system) is the largest in the country, none of its member institutions play in the traditional Power 5 conferences, so major collegiate football, for the moment, has not been compromised.

But the sports world needs to be ready for what’s coming. While it is possible through a miracle of science that colleges are going to be in a position to open in the fall, the view gets more and more dismal by the day. Ultimately, this means that fall sports have a strong likelihood of at least significant postponement if not outright cancellation.

What will this mean? Well, without football money, budgets will be constricted. Cincinnati already announced that it was cutting its 47-year-old men’s soccer program amidst all the uncertainty. With depleted revenues, some colleges have even closed down due to financial catastrophe.

Now, to be fair, BC is in an enviable position in that its financial position is strong and has the resources to weather the storm. But a cancellation of football could have a significant effect on the athletic program. It would not be fair to speculate what kind of effect a cancellation would have, but it is impossible to avoid that reality when you remove a mechanism of financial support as large as football.

That’s probably why even now BC has continued to sell tickets to football games and hockey. To be fair, if there is a scenario where football and hockey can be played in front of spectators, it’s a necessary process to go through. But that scenario has become less and less likely, especially for football.

This is all to say that colleges across the country are going to face some really difficult choices in the next months. It is just a matter of what choices they will make.