COVID-19: NCAA Issues Aug. 21 Deadline for Deciding on Fall Sports Championships

Photo by Charlie Nye, USA Today

Jeff Faraudo

The NCAA, which has been fairly quiet recently on the subject of COVID-19, announced on Wednesday an Aug. 21 deadline for divisions to determine whether they will conduct fall championship events.

The organization which oversees collegiate sports also issued a set of requirements for schools and conferences in order for them to hold any fall sports competition, at the Divisions I, II and III levels.

Note: The NCAA subsequently announced Wednesday that both the Division II and III presidents council will cancel its fall championships.

Word from the NCAA comes in the wake of athletes throughout the country expressing concern this week about their safety as the coronavirus pandemic continues to pose a serious health threat. Pac-12 football players have threatened to opt-out of fall camp and games if their demands are not met, and Big Ten players released their own statement on Wednesday, but without the threat of opting out.

The statement from the NCAA touches on some of the Pac-12 players' issues, especially as it relates to COVID-19, but doesn't address many others.

The NCAA announcement says schools may not require athletes to sign medical waivers, an athlete who opts out of playing because of COVID-19 concerns must keep his or her scholarship, and a phone number will be established for athletes or parents to report violations related to health requirements.

Additionally, each division must determine by Aug. 14 “the eligibility accommodations that must be made for student-athletes who opt out of participating this fall or for those whose seasons are canceled or cut short due to COVID-19. College athletes and their families must know what their eligibility status will be before beginning the fall season.”

In the news release from the NCAA’s Board of Governors, Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and University of California system president, said safety is the top consideration.

“Each division must examine whether it has the resources available to take the required precautions given the spread of COVID-19,” Drake said in the statement.

Likewise, each division must determine by Aug. 21 whether they are able to hold fall sport championships, including in cross country, soccer, tennis and water polo.

Here are specific guidelines for conducting those championship events:

Any NCAA fall championship or other postseason contests must be conducted within enhanced safety protocols for student-athletes and essential athletics personnel. These safety enhancements will include regular testing, separation of college athletes and essential personnel from all other nonessential personnel, and physical distancing and masking policies during all aspects of noncompetition.

NCAA championships may use reduced bracketing, a reduced number of competitors, predetermined sites and, where appropriate, single sites to limit exposure to COVID-19.

If 50% or more of eligible teams in a particular sport in a division cancel their fall season, there will be no fall NCAA championship in that sport in that division.

If fall sports championships are postponed in any division, a decision to conduct that championship at a later date will be based upon the scientific data available at that time regarding COVID-19, along with other considerations.

Here are the other requirements the NCAA detailed in its news release related to conferences and schools staging sports during the fall season:

  • All fall sports activity (preseason, regular season and postseason) must follow the recently released return-to-sport guidelines from the NCAA Sport Science Institute for all athletic activity. As the guidelines change based on the ever-changing pandemic, schools must follow any future modifications.
  • The NCAA will establish a phone number and email to allow college athletes, parents or others to report alleged failures. The Association will notify school and conference administrators, who will be expected to take immediate action.
  • All member schools must adhere to federal, state and local guidelines related to COVID-19. Further, the conduct of NCAA championships must be in line with federal, state and local guidelines.
  • All student-athletes must be allowed to opt out of participation due to concerns about contracting COVID-19. If a college athlete chooses to opt out, that individual’s athletics scholarship commitment must be honored by the college or university.
  • Each division must determine no later than Aug. 14 the eligibility accommodations that must be made for student-athletes who opt out of participating this fall or for those whose seasons are canceled or cut short due to COVID-19. College athletes and their families must know what their eligibility status will be before beginning the fall season.
  • Member schools may not require student-athletes to waive their legal rights regarding COVID-19 as a condition of athletics participation.
  • Member schools, in conjunction with existing insurance standards, must cover COVID-19 related medical expenses for student-athletes to prevent out-of-pocket expenses for college athletes and their families.

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*** Not everyone is on board with playing this fall: More than 70 percent of Idaho football players said in a confidential poll they are not comfortable playing this season:

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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