The University of Connecticut became the first top-tier college football team to cancel its season, citing health concerns and the opinions of its athletes.
After seven seasons in the American Athletic Conference, this was supposed to be UConn’s first year as an independent, a floating status that has proved especially difficult to navigate amid the COVID-19 disruptions. Four of UConn’s 12 scheduled games had already been canceled, with two others likely to be axed in the coming days.
“After receiving guidance from state and public health officials and consulting with football student-athletes, we’ve decided that we will not compete on the gridiron this season,” director of athletics David Benedict said. “The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk.”
It’s unlikely that UConn’s decision will be the first domino in an immediate string of cancellations.
None of the 10 FBS conferences have canceled their seasons, meaning that almost the entire division has a schedule that is mostly intact. It does likely put pressure on the other independent schools—like New Mexico State, Liberty and BYU—to find a solution to their scheduling problem. That could mean them cancelling football as well, or temporarily joining a conference, as Notre Dame will do this year with the ACC.
Those schools all rely heavily on guarantee games to balance their annual budgets, and playing without that money becomes a tricky proposition. At New Mexico State, for example, those games are the athletic department’s biggest revenue driver. UConn’s scheduled games against Illinois (Big Ten), Indiana (Big Ten) and Ole Miss (SEC) were already canceled. Games against North Carolina (ACC) and Virginia (ACC) were likely about to follow.
UConn is re-joining the Big East in other sports, including basketball, meaning they’ll receive some of the Big East’s annual Fox money. In May, UConn football announced its own multi-year deal with CBS Sports to broadcast four games this year.
UConn, which has an annual athletics budget of around $80 million, began spring practice on Feb. 4 and was one of the only FBS schools to complete a full spring schedule. The team had been on campus since early July, and no one had tested positive for COVID-19, the school said.
One thing that will be noted by programs, large and small—the UConn athletes themselves appear to be in favor of cancelling the season as well.
“As a team we are in full support of the decision to not compete in 2020,” they wrote in a statement. “We have many health concerns and not enough is known about the potential long term effects of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, we have not had the optimal time to train mentally and physically to be properly prepared to compete this season.”