As college sports grow ever more uncertain by the hour, another day brought yet another ominous round of developments, casting doubt on the prospect of playing through a pandemic.
The NCAA may still be biding its time, but urgency is rising fast elsewhere. With fall camps scheduled to open in the coming weeks, there’s still no clarity on how college football will proceed. More programs are halting workouts by the day. Some are canceling sports altogether. College athletes are coming forward with safety demands, and with football season looking as tenuous as ever, cash-strapped conferences are already planning for bailouts.
The difficulties of college sports carrying on amid COVID-19 were made more clear Wednesday with a rush of news.
— At least eight UCLA football players have tested positive for the coronavirus, said Barbara Ferrer, director of L.A. County's public health department.
In an athletic department statement, UCLA said it "currently has no student-athletes in isolation."
UCLA said it has had 167 positive cases for the coronavirus since testing began in mid March. The school reports cases for the "UCLA community" and not specifically for the athletic department.
—The lone USC player to lend his name to a group of Pac-12 football players demanding change affirmed that he would be willing to join a boycott of the season if measures weren’t taken to strengthen safety protections for players.
But where some Pac-12 participants have taken a more hard-line stance on demands that also include wide-reaching social justice and economic reforms, Chase Williams explained his role in the cause was “more so [about] just pushing for a change, so that we can get back to football.”
Williams said he has had discussions with USC teammates about sitting out if the group’s safety concerns aren’t addressed. But the Trojans redshirt sophomore defensive back noted several times that they were “not expecting to boycott.”
— After waiting as long as possible to offer any guidance on the immediate future of its fall sports championships, the NCAA Board of Governors finally offered a date on when that future needs to be decided. By Aug. 21, the NCAA’s three divisions must decide independently on whether to continue with fall sports championships. To do so, at least 50% of teams in a division will have to conduct a fall regular season.
If they do decide to continue, the NCAA laid out a few ground rules. It guaranteed the scholarship of athletes who choose to opt out of participating in the fall and set a date of Aug. 14 for eligibility status to be determined for those who do.
“Our decisions place emphasis where it belongs — on the health and safety of college athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said.
— Shortly after the NCAA announcement, a council of Division II university presidents canceled the fall championships. Teams can still play their regular season if they want. Division III university presidents chose to cancel fall sports outright after finding that it was “logistically untenable and financially prohibitive.”
— Three days after Pac-12 players expressed their own concerns in a demand letter, players of the Big Ten followed suit with a more toned-down list of demands focused primarily on “protecting the well-being of all athletes.”
The Big Ten proposal doesn’t threaten a boycott, nor does it call for a 50% revenue share. It also doesn’t address issues of racial injustice, which Pac-12 players made a priority. It does call for increased testing for COVID-19 — three per week during the season — as well as an automatic medical redshirt for any player forced to sit out because of a positive test or mandatory quarantine due to contact tracing.
According to the Associated Press, a number of Pac-12 football players met with officials from Gov. Gavin Newsom's office Tuesday to express their concerns about their schools' COVID-19 protocols and protecting their eligibility. The players are hoping an executive order from Newsom will mandate player-approved, third-party oversight of COVID-19 rules at the state's four Pac-12 schools.
— While its players expressed concern over their safety, the Big Ten pressed on with releasing plans for a 10-game conference-only schedule that begins on Sept. 5, all the while cautioning that the slate was anything but certain.
The Big Ten, like the Pac-12, built in some cushion for rescheduling games, with the season able to start any Saturday through September.
— A cancellation of the season is not yet imminent, although the Pac-12 appears to be preparing for that scenario. The San Jose Mercury News reported that the conference is planning for a massive loan program that would provide up to $83 million for each member university to deal with the financial devastation caused by COVID-19.
Each Pac-12 athletic department would be given the option to opt out of the loan program, which, at its maximum, could lend out a total of nearly $1 billion to the conference’s schools. For a department like UCLA’s, which was already dealing with a $40-million budget shortfall, it could provide a financial parachute to keep from free-falling amid a pandemic-altered sports calendar.
—Connecticut became the first Football Bowl Subdivision program to throw in the towel on the 2020 season. In a statement, athletic director Dave Benedict explained that the “safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk.”
— At Louisville 29 athletes from men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey and volleyball tested positive for COVID-19. The mass outbreak, which temporarily suspended workouts for all four sports, was traced back to an off-campus party.
— The College Football Playoff selection committee said it would release its final rankings of the season on Dec. 20 instead of Dec. 6 because several conferences have moved their title games to Dec. 12, 18 or 19. The playoff semifinals will be held Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. The national championship game will be played Jan. 11 at at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.