The world of college athletics is sure to be in uncharted territory this fall. The COVID-19 pandemic has cast doubts on whether students will even be able to return to classrooms, much less gather every day for practice and engage in competitions. Although many schools are planning to resume classes in the fall, serious precautions are being taken. A majority of classes will likely be conducted online to avoid gathering in class with other students throughout the day, so if that also applies to gathering for practice, it could mean delaying or canceling many sports.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, recently became the first school in New England’s Division 3 athletic conference to announce that its fall football season will be canceled. The school is canceling all varsity sports until January 2021. So, what does this mean for other schools?

Tough Decisions for College Officials

Bubba Cunningham, athletic director at UNC Chapel Hill, was quoted in a 60 Minutes interview as saying:

The biggest decision for our campus is how do you restart the campus? When do you bring the students back?

His school is just one of many facing this dilemma. He stated that the school, with its 30,000 students and 800 athletes, will test each athlete for COVID-19 immediately when they return, and then proceed to test them every week to 10 days to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition to monitoring the students’ health, officials also need to consider the logistics of having fans attend university games. If fans are permitted to attend, they must consider every aspect of the fan experience, from parking and stadium entry to social distance guidelines with seating and restroom use. Another consideration is ticket sales—if a stadium can only be seated at 25% to 40% capacity, how are tickets going to be distributed? Although first come, first served would seem to be ideal, the early tickets would likely be reserved for the most significant contributors to the athletic organizations.

How Will Things Look on the Field?

College athletes typically spend a lot of time on the practice field. Although the NCAA officially restricts practice to 20 hours a week, most athletes suggest that this figure only accounts for 50% to 75% of the time they spend at practice. With the restrictions that universities will follow, based on CDC and local guidelines, it is likely that practice time will be much more limited than other years, so what are games going to look like? Some suspect that it will be an interesting year, full of unexpected upsets, crazy plays, and chaos unlike we’ve ever seen in college sports.

No matter how it all plays out, one thing is for sure—the 2020 college athletic season will be one for the history books. Some teams have already cautiously begun summer practice, only to experience COVID-19 outbreaks that set practices back for weeks. As the fall semester looms, students and faculty hope for a return to normalcy. Unfortunately, COVID-19 cases across the country are on the rise again, and many Americans are unwilling to take the necessary precautions to flatten the curve. Only time will tell how the college sports season will shape up for the fall.

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