The Ivy League is the first Division I conference to cancel its fall football season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Council of Ivy League Presidents voted Wednesday to cancel all fall sports, according to someone familiar with the decision. The conference will decide at a later date whether it will try to play those sports in the spring, the person said. The news follows announcements earlier in the week from members such as Harvard and Princeton about limiting the number of students on campus this fall.
This isn’t the first time that the Ivy League has been the first in college sports to take drastic action due to COVID-19. On March 10, it was the first conference to cancel its postseason basketball tournaments. The decision was initially mocked and criticized, but ultimately proved prescient. It was also the first D-I conference to cancel all of its spring sports.
Financially, it’s an easier decision for the Ivy League than other big-time college conferences. For one, sports (and more specifically, football) are not the massive revenue driver at Cornell and Columbia that they are at Michigan and Penn State. The conference’s eight schools have an average athletics budget of $20.1 million, according to data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education; the Big Ten’s schools average more than $134 million.
Second, school-wide budgetary concerns are likely less pressing. As colleges look at potential enrollment shortfalls as a result of the pandemic, the country’s most exclusive universities are less susceptible to dips. Ivy League schools also have more than $135 billion in combined endowments.
The council’s decision comes as other D-I conferences and schools continue making preparations to play football this fall. Athletes across the country are returning to campuses for voluntary workouts, despite the fact that coronavirus cases are surging in many states. At Clemson, for example, at least 37 football players have tested positive for the virus. It’s led to increased doubt about whether seasons can be played and whether schools can ensure the health and safety of athletes as they try.
Student availability undoubtedly factored into the Ivy League’s decision. Harvard, for example, said this week that it would invite around 40% of the student body back to campus this fall but that all learning would be remote. Princeton said freshmen and juniors would be allowed on campus in the fall, while sophomore and seniors would be allowed in the spring.
Moves like this are becoming more commonplace at lower NCAA levels. On Tuesday the Centennial Conference presidents voted to suspend the fall sports calendar. That vote left the door open for some sports, including football, to be held in the spring.