The NCAA will let states and university presidents decide when they begin to play college sports again, according to statements made Tuesday by NCAA president Mark Emmert.
As reported by ESPN, the NCAA won't mandate or oversee a uniform return to college sports, which shut down beginning in mid-March when the NCAA canceled its men's and women's basketball tournaments. All winter and spring championships were likewise called off due to the advancing coronavirus pandemic. There is still no timetable for a return, and Emmert said it isn't the NCAA's role to determine one.
"Normally, there's an agreed-upon start date for every sport, every season," Emmert told ESPN's Heather Dinich, "but under these circumstances, now that's all been derailed by the pandemic. It won't be the conferences that can do that, either. It will be the local and state health officials that say whether or not you can open and play football with fans.
"We already saw the Oregon governor offering her views on what's likely to happen in September. The Pac-12 can say, 'Gee, we'd all like to open up on this date,' but whether or not you can is going to be ultimately up to the state and local health officials and the campus itself making a decision whether or not they want to go forward."
Emmert said the NCAA's decision-making model during the pandemic is similar to that of the federal, state and local governments, and the NCAA's role is to "provide guidance and support." The NCAA in March established a COVID-19 advisory panel of leading medical, public health and epidemiology experts and NCAA member schools to guide its response to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Emmert's comments came amid ongoing debate among member schools and conferences as to how to proceed. Earlier on Tuesday, several Pac-12 football coaches expressed their support for an NCAA-mandated uniform start to the season while on a video conference call with reporters. University of Washington coach Jimmy Lake said Tuesday that he would prefer for all major college teams to begin six weeks of preparation for the season at the same time, and Penn State head football coach James Franklin said last week that it would be helpful for the NCAA to give some national guidelines in addition to what each state and university determines.
"These are localized decisions," Emmert said. "Local campuses have to decide: Are we opening up, and are we bringing students back to play sports? The NCAA doesn't mandate that, nor should it. The schools themselves have to make those choices."
Emmert said he has a formal call with all 32 Division I commissioners at least once a week, and he talks to individual commissioners daily. He said his staff and the NCAA's member institutions are prepared to change any necessary legislation quickly to adapt to potential scheduling or rules changes prompted by the pandemic.
"Where we have direct control is of course over our championships, all 90 of those championships, and we'll make sure those are conducted in a way that's first and foremost safe for the students, for coaches, for fans, however that plays out," he told ESPN. "We'll support the conferences who make the decisions with the schools about what the conference schedules are going to look like, make whatever adjustments need to be made in the rules, to move seasons around so that we can accommodate all of the needs that are going to be popping up right now and recognizing this is going to play out in different ways in different parts of the country."