The NCAA Board of Governors unveiled a new set of guidelines on Wednesday designed to “safeguard student-athlete well-being, scholarships and eligibility” relating to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
While the Governors have left the specifics of those safeguards open to determination by each specific Division, they did say that fall sports championships and other postseason play would only be supported by the board if these conditions are applied and adhered to:
- 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.
- 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.
Two of these conditions meet with those demands made by a group of Pac-12 Conference football players to the Pac-12 before they were willing to play this fall. Specifically among those demands were allowing student-athletes to opt out of the season without risking their scholarship commitments, and that member schools may not require student-athletes to waiver their legal rights regarding COVID-19.
Further, the NCAA says that if 50% or more of eligibile 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.
The NCAA says that it has established its requirements based on guidance from the NCAA’s COVID-19 Advisory Panel that was established in March.
The NCAA also gave divisions two key deadlines in their coronavirus decision making.
The first is a deadline of August 14 to determine what will happen to eligibility for student-athletes who opt out of playing this season, or whose seasons are ultimately canceled or cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. The goal here is to avoid the uncertainty that came with the cancellation of sports last spring, where student-athletes were left waiting to know whether they would get an extra season of eligibility.
The other deadlines is August 21. By then, each division must determine whether their respective fall sports seasons and NCAA Championships should occur this year.
“The first and most important consideration is whether sports can be conducted safely for college athletes,” said Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and University of California system president. “Each division must examine whether it has the resources available to take the required precautions given the spread of COVID-19.”
The lone fall aquatic sport is men’s water polo, which sponsors a single ‘national collegiate’ division.
“Our decisions place emphasis where it belongs — on the health and safety of college athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “Student-athletes should never feel pressured into playing their sport if they do not believe it is safe to do so. These policies ensure they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about playing this fall.”
Emmert also emphasized the need for each division to conduct a careful evaluation of the viability of fall championships. He acknowledged that each division is unique.
“First and foremost, we need to make sure we provide a safe environment for college athletes to compete for an opportunity to play in NCAA championships,” Emmert said. “A decision based on the realities in each division will provide clarity for conferences and campuses as they determine how to safely begin the academic year and the return to sports.”
A spike in new reported daily coronavirus cases that began in the US in mid-June peaked 2 weeks ago when on July 24, the US reported just over 78,000 positive tests. Since then, as many states have rolled back some reopening plans, the numbers have been slowly dropping, with the last 7 days averaging about 60,000 new positive tests. That’s still well above the country’s low point of new daily cases, which was around 22,000.