Ivy League fields and courts will be empty until at least January, as the NCAA Division I conference’s Council of Presidents voted Wednesday to cancel all athletic competition for the upcoming fall semester. The decision coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic policies in place throughout the conference’s eight member schools.
“As a leadership group, we have a responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of the students who attend our institutions, as well as the faculty and staff who work at our schools,” the Council of Presidents said in the Ivy League’s release. “These decisions are extremely difficult, particularly when they impact meaningful student-athlete experiences that so many value and cherish.
“With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk, consistent with the policies that each of our schools is adopting as part of its reopening plans this fall.”
While the presidents made a conference-wide decision, the Ivy League has left several athletic decisions open to member schools. On-campus student-athletes will be able to practice or attend workouts as long as they follow university, conference and state guidelines.
The 2020-21 fall seasons might not be fully lost, as the conference left open the possibility of moving fall sports to the spring. That decision, as well as decisions on winter and spring sports after January 1, will be made at a later date.
"I think what has to happen is we have to see a change in greater containment of the spread of the virus so it's safer, and that would then lead to a change in our campus policy," Ivy League executive director Robin Harris told ESPN. "We hope that as that happens, we will be able to continue to phase in athletics and ultimately get back to having competition, but we have to get to the point where the virus is not as big of a safety risk as it is for our students, the campus community and our country. I can't put a time frame on it."
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The Ivy League consists of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale. Student-athletes won’t lose any eligibility this fall, although the Ivy League has a longtime policy that prevents graduate students from competing in varsity athletics. Wednesday’s press release said, “Students who wish to pursue competition during a fifth-year will need to work with their institutions in accordance with campus policy to determine their options beyond their current anticipated graduation date.”
The Ivy League was also early to make pandemic-related decisions this spring, deciding March 10 to cancel its season-ending basketball tournaments. That spark eventually led to the cancellation of every NCAA event after mid-March.
It remains to be seen whether more conferences follow their lead this time. Harris said that canceling fall competition was the right decision for the Ivy League, but acknowledged that every conference is dealing with different factors.
"Schools have to evaluate what's right for them," Harris told ESPN, noting the Ivy League’s decision wasn’t about finances. "For us, it came down to campus policies. Our athletic directors have been working very hard modeling different options, looking at different ways we can conduct athletics in the fall, and ultimately, as more and more campuses developed their policies that didn't allow for competition, that led to our decision. That may not be the same at other schools in other conferences."
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