This post has been updated.
After months of speculation regarding the status of fall athletics due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cornell athletes finally have their answer — athletic competition will not take place during the fall semester.
The announcement comes a week after the Ivy League was reportedly considering a shift to spring for football in lieu of the traditional fall season. On July 1, the Ivy League tweeted its intent to announce a decision regarding fall athletic activity on July 8, and in the days leading up to the announcement, Ivy League coaches began speculating that the conference was pushing fall sports back to the spring.
That speculation did not come to fruition on July 8. Instead, the conference merely canceled fall athletics and did not confirm a postponement to the spring, though it remains a possibility. The release stated that a decision on the winter and spring calendar, as well as the feasibility of fall sports in the spring, “will be determined at a later date.”
With the Ancient Eight ruling out athletic competition during the fall semester, winter athletics’ schedules — which would start in November — will also need to be reconfigured. That being said, winter sports teams could resume competition after the conclusion of the fall semester in December. The fall semester officially ends after the final exam period.
In a joint statement, the Ivy League Council of Presidents explained the rationale behind their decision.
“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,” the statement read.
“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,” the statement concluded.
Student-athletes may practice if they comply with institutional and state regulations, according to the release. The conference will issue guidelines on a phased approach to practice and conditioning activities in which student-athletes can ultimately build to small group practice sessions.
Fall student-athletes will not use a year of Ivy League or NCAA eligibility this fall, but if they want to pursue a fifth year, they “will need to work with their institutions in accordance with campus policy to determine their options beyond their current anticipated graduation date,” the release stated. The Ivy League does not permit athletes, regardless of NCAA eligibility, to participate in varsity athletics as graduate students.
A number of logistical questions arise from the decision. If fall sports take place in the spring, there could be issues with occupancy of athletic facilities. For example, the football team would be using Schoellkopf Field in the spring, which could create conflicts with the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams in the scheduling of practices and games. The later start for winter sports could compound the issue as well.
Another important factor is whether other conferences make the same move. If the Ivy League is the only conference to shift its fall sports to the spring, then competition will only consist of intra-conference opponents. Cornell teams could see revised schedules that only list the seven other Ivy League schools on the docket while omitting their traditional non-conference foes.
The Ivy League set a precedent in March, becoming the first conference to cancel its postseason tournaments and spring play in the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its decision regarding the fall could serve as a springboard for conferences once again.
While non-Power Five conferences are more likely to follow the decision with less to lose in revenue, Power-Five schools could instead view the Ivy League’s decision as an outlier and opt to forge their own path. Shane Lyons, the athletic director at West Virginia and chair of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee, told ESPN that the Ivy League’s decision isn’t likely to impact the upcoming football season at Power-Five schools.
“We all pay attention to it, just to see what’s out there, but I think their model is a little different than our model when it comes to football,” Lyons said in a statement to ESPN. “Is it definitely going to impact what we do? As a whole, not necessarily. We have to look at what we’re doing with testing and protocols and the safety and well-being of our student-athletes, making sure we’re doing the right thing from that aspect of it, to see if we can fill any type of season.”
Meanwhile, Chet Gladchuk, the athletic director at the U.S. Naval Academy, lent more credence to the Ivy League’s decision. All of Navy’s athletic teams — aside from football, which participates in the American Athletic Conference — are a part of the Patriot League, a conference more on par with the funding and size of the Ivy League. The Patriot League, like the Ivy League, does not award athletic scholarships.
“Whatever the Ivy League does, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriot League gives it very serious consideration,” Gladchuk told ESPN. “It’d be typical of the way we’ve operated in the past.”
The Patriot League already put in restrictions last month for fall sports, including member institutions canceling individual games, though the league has not canceled the season overall.
Whatever path other schools take in the wake of the Ivy League’s announcement, one thing remains clear — athletic activity will not be taking place on East Hill anytime soon. Andy Noel, the athletic director at Cornell, issued the following statement.
“While extremely disappointing that our student-athletes will not have the opportunity to compete for the Big Red this semester, I am assured this decision was deliberated by the Ivy presidents with much care and thoughtful discussion,” the statement read. “The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff, families and the entire Cornell community will always be the paramount consideration.”
“Losing the opportunity to compete in the short term is a heartbreak to everyone closely connected to the programs, from the student-athletes and coaches to families and staff,” the statement continued. “However, given the magnitude of the global pandemic, health and safety must be our focus.”
Correction appended, July 8, 10:45 p.m.: The previous headline for this article read, “Ivy League Cancels Fall Athletics in 2020, ‘Will Not Entertain’ Sports Until After Jan. 1,” and it was previously reported that Cornell athletic teams — both fall and winter — will not play in 2020. The Ivy League press release did not list a Jan. 1 date but rather said that sports will not be played during the fall semester. The fall semester concludes after the final exam period in December. If conditions improve, winter sports teams could engage in athletic competition prior to the new year but after academic activities have concluded for 2020.