The Ivy League was ahead of everyone back in early March. Many remember the NBA as the first sports league to shut down operations when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the novel coronavirus on March 11, sparking the shutdown of not only the NBA but the MLB and all of college athletics.
LSU basketball had just arrived in Nashville that March 11 afternoon when coach Will Wade, who was scouting a potential matchup the Tigers could face later in the week, learned of the NBA shutdown. As soon as he learned the news, he knew what was to follow.
"I wasn’t really surprised,” Wade told The Advocate when the SEC Tournament was canceled the following morning. “When the NBA did it, I figured we were heading toward this.”
But it was the Ivy League that started the canceling of sporting events, starting with its men's and women's basketball tournaments on March 10, which was followed by canceling all spring sports the next day. On Wednesday, the league became the first to make another unprecedented move, shutting down fall sports until January.
“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 Ivy League Council of Presidents said in a joint statement. "These decisions are extremely difficult, particularly when they impact meaningful student-athlete experiences that so many value and cherish."
It was later reported that the league didn't completely rule out a return of sports like football in January but that given the recent spike in coronavirus cases there was enough to delay the season. So what does the Ivy League shutting down fall sports mean for conferences across the country?
At this point there aren't many answers, which is troubling in its own right. With the recent spike in cases, there is doubt among many decision makers at the collegiate level as to whether the season should start on time. Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger believes there is a growing likelihood that the college football season, at the very least, won't be starting on time.
"We thought in early June that maybe we'd be in a better place than we are here in early July," Dellenger said. "Will we have football? Honestly I'm not so sure. Doubts have certainly crept into college athletic leaders' minds and the virus cases have gone up."
While Dellenger doesn't believe the Ivy League deciding to shut down fall sports directly impacts decision making at the FBS level, it points to the fact that with the positive cases of the virus spiking, so is the level of doubt about a college season starting on time.
Athletic departments are starting to completely end some varsity sports as SI's Pat Forde reported that Stanford is dropping 11 of its programs including men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, coed and women’s sailing, squash, men’s volleyball, wrestling and synchronized swimming. Nearly 20 Division I universities have eliminated at least one varsity sport since the pandemic put a pin in college athletics.
The spike in cases is also forcing numerous programs to temporarily shut down voluntary workouts after positive cases. Ohio State and UNC became the latest when it was reported that 37 student-athletes tested positive out of 439 tests in Raleigh. Kansas State, Kansas and Houston have also shut down voluntary workouts after positive cases within the programs.
Over the next few weeks, decisions will need to be made on whether or not a season starting on time is plausible. During a senate hearing last week, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told Dellenger that one of the contingency plans is to push the college season to the spring.
“When I’ve said we’re looking at contingencies, that’s always been one of those elements of 18-20 possibilities. You have to think about, ‘What will you know in January that will be different?’ It’s been difficult to predict," Sankey said. "We have to be careful in our decision making. Even amidst the concerning data now, we want to make sure we take care of our young people first and then we’ll see what happens through July to make decisions.”
A spring season would open up a totally new can of worms, one of which is what will some of the higher profile juniors and seniors elect to do with the NFL Draft presumably around the corner. Ja'Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall, Tyler Shelvin, JaCoby Stevens and Jabril Cox are just a few that come to mind on LSU's team alone.
It's a troubling time for the future of college athletics in the fall, one that grows dimmer seemingly by the day. If the answers are out there, nobody's found them to this point, a concerning thought with LSU's home opener less than two months away.