Even as some conference commissioners envision student-athletes returning to empty campuses, NCAA president Mark Emmert said Friday that he can't see a scenario in which athletes are placed at greater risk than the general student body.
As reported by USA Today, Emmert said he does not think sports can return at schools operating in an online-only teaching environment because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Emmert and NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline also said testing and tracing both need to dramatically improve before sports can return.
“College athletes are college students, and you can’t have college sports if you don’t have college [campuses] open and having students on them," Emmert said during a live conversation on the NCAA’s Twitter channel. "You don’t want to ever put student-athletes at greater risk than the rest of the student body.”
In Division I, he said, “all of the commissioners and every president that I’ve talked to is in clear agreement: If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus.
“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.”
In addition, Emmert said he can foresee schools restarting their athletics programs at different times, resulting in some teams playing shorter schedules that might impact postseason selections. However, athletes must be given sufficient preseason practice time to compete safely — and the NCAA can address scheduling inequities as the fall progresses. "We would much rather relax some of those competitive-equity issues than ever put a young man or young woman at risk, physically or mentally," he said.
On Thursday, Stadium reported multiple conference commissioners had said that athletes would not be prevented from returning to campus to play football this season if classes were online-only.