The University of Connecticut announced this week that it will be suspending its football program for the 2020-2021 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic – the first football program in the NCAA’s highest level (FBS) to do so.
Last month, UConn officially cut its men’s swimming & diving program along with three more sports (men’s tennis, men’s cross country and women’s rowing). The move came after reports that the school would need to cut $10 million from its budget over the next three years due to the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, the school has also suspended its football program for the season, cancelling all competition during the 2020-2021 school year. That’s a hugely significant move, as it marks the first NCAA Division I FBS program (the highest division of collegiate football) to suspend its football team, according to ESPN.
While UConn is re-joining the Big East next season for most sports, that conference doesn’t participate in football, where UConn is an ‘independent.’ This means they have no conference schedule, and with many conferences canceling, or severely limiting, their football schedules for this season, that would have made putting together a football schedule for the Huskies this season challenging.
The school cited health and safety, saying that COVID-19 put football players “at an unacceptable level of risk.” UConn did actually complete a full spring practice schedule with its football team, and team members have been back on campus for about a month this summer. The school says there have been zero positive COVID-19 tests among football players so far.
The football team itself has supported the move, according to the UConn release:
Athletics Director David Benedict: “The necessary measures needed to mitigate risk of football student-athletes contracting the coronavirus are not conducive to delivering an optimal experience for our team. Ultimately, the student-athletes would rather preserve their year of eligibility with an eye to competing under more typical circumstances during the 2021 season.”
Head football coach Randy Edsall: “We engaged and listened to the concerns of our football student-athletes and feel this is the best decision for their health, safety, and well-being. Our team is united in this approach and we will use this time to further player development within the program and gear ourselves to the 2021 season.”
Football players group statement: “As a team we are in full support of the decision to not compete in 2020. We have many health concerns and not enough is known about the potential long term effects of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, we have not had the optimal time to train mentally & physically to be properly prepared to compete this season. We love this game and love competing. We came to campus in the beginning of July knowing there would be challenges presented by the pandemic but it is apparent to us now that these challenges are impossible to overcome.”
The decision by an FBS school to suspend football is an important one as colleges (and high schools) struggle to make decisions on fall sports amid the ongoing pandemic. Swimming & diving are winter sports at the college level, but many schools have already pushed all athletic competition to January 1 or later, which would shorten college swim seasons.
The financial impact of football cancellations could also trickle down to swimming programs. A huge list of Division I schools have already eliminated swimming & diving for budgetary reasons, and the absence of revenue-producing sports like football during the 2020-2021 season could further exacerbate the financial issues facing college athletic departments.