The Ivy League Led The Way In March. Are They Doing So Again?
On Tuesday, March 10, the Ivy League became the first conference to make the decision to cancel their men’s and women’s conference basketball tournaments, which were slated to start on March 13.
The Ivy League’s decision to pull the plug on their tournament was met with varied responses at the time. Some applauded the decision. Most panned it. The NBA hadn’t even suspended their season yet (Rudy Gobert’s positive test happened the next night, March 11).
Regardless of the initial reaction, everyone else eventually followed suit. The Ivy League was first, but the other conferences else fell in line.
The Ivy League was ahead of the rest of the American sports landscape in mid-March, even on the eve of one of the largest annual sports mainstays, the NCAA Tournament.
The Ivy League made a tough, pioneering decision in March. And now, they’ve done so again.
On Wednesday, July 8, the Ivy League became the first conference to make the decision to cancel all their fall athletic programs.
Once more, the Ivy League is the first conference to make a cancellation decision regarding COVID-19-related concerns.
In a statement, the member schools’ Council of Presidents said,
“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. We are entrusted to create and maintain an educational environment that is guided by health and safety considerations. There can be no greater responsibility — and that is the basis for this difficult decision.”
Will the rest of the NCAA, including the power conferences, once again follow suit?
Here’s a conclusive answer for you: Maybe.
Okay so unfortunately not so conclusive answer after all. Because the decision-making process, as you'll see, is not as black and white as we'd like it.
Before we can answer if other conferences will take similar steps, it’s helpful to first understand why the Ivy League acted swiftly and decisively in both situations.
The Ivy League’s geographic footprint includes some of the largest metropolitan areas in New England, including New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Providence. They must be wary of hot spots and large-scale breakouts.
Additionally, when it comes to shutting down early, keep in mind that the institutions of the Ivy League are home to world-renowned medical and scientific experts, who were and are leading the charge on studying the coronavirus and all its implications. So the athletics departments of the Ivy League have first-hand access to some of the very best COVID-19 intel the world has to offer.
In terms of the fall sports decision, both Harvard and Princeton have already announced that all classes would be online this fall semester. That’s 25 percent of the conference not meeting residentially. It's hard to have sports with no one on campus.
Other conferences would certainly be wise to follow the Ivy League’s example based on their track record of being correct back in March.
But here’s the thing: when it comes to fall sports, specifically football, the Ivy League is different than the major conferences in one very important area.
Money, and its persuasive power, is always lurking (overtly or covertly) in these conversations and decisions. I’m not arguing that it should do so in this situation, when lives and health are at risk, I’m just suggesting we must recognize that money is nearly always what drives decision making.
Additionally, institutions will have to discern if they’re able to hold classes (the first and main purpose of higher education) before making athletics decisions. If we aren’t having school residentially, it seems unlikely (or at least unwise) that fielding athletics teams is a sensible endeavor.
What does seem likely at this point is that every conference (yes, even the Power Five) will alter their plans for the fall athletics calendar in one way or another.
A few examples from Thursday, July 9, the day after the Ivy League made their announcement:
The Big Ten announced that all fall sports would move to play “conference-only schedules…if the conference is able to participate in fall sports”.
Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde and Ross Dellenger learned from sources that all 14 SEC athletic directors are headed to the league offices in Birmingham, Alabama on Monday, July 13 to discuss fall plans.
If several major conferences make drastic decisions, there will certainly be a domino effect because of the interweaving of scheduling across conferences.
So what consequence does all this upheaval have on the ACC, and specifically Carolina?
First, as Quierra Luck reported on Thursday, the ACC is delaying the start of competition for all Olympic sports until September 1.
If other conferences (including the ACC) move to a “conference-only” schedule similar to the Big Ten, Carolina football would drop their first three games (UCF, Auburn, James Madison) and their homecoming game against UConn on November 7. This leaves the Tar Heels with just eight games.
One possibility in this scenario would be to add in some of the ACC teams that aren’t currently on the schedule for this season. That list includes Florida State, Clemson, Wake Forest, Louisville, Syracuse, and Notre Dame (who isn’t a full ACC member for football but does play five ACC games a year as part of their agreement).
Adding in supplemental conference games would likely happen at the conference level.
In terms of what these fall sports decisions mean for winter and spring sports, we’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach. It’s only July 10, and the state of the affairs could be drastically different a couple of weeks from now, not to mention three months from now when practice would start for sports like basketball.
Suffice it to say that, once again, everything is up in the air.
Similar to that week back in March when the Ivy League was the first domino to fall, the wheels are now in motion and it’s only a matter of time before fall athletics decisions are made all across the country.
Don’t get comfortable though, because every update that comes out from conferences or the NCAA will have clauses attached for if and when things inevitably change again.
Just like the spring semester, it’s likely going to be a different fall semester than anything we’ve known. And once again, the Ivy League was the first signal that change was coming.
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