The University of Connecticut became the first team in the Football Bowl Subdivision tier of American college sports to cancel its 2020 football season due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, showing the ever-rising pressure on this segment of the sports industry.
Already, several smaller conferences including the Ivy League, Patriot League, and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference have already moved to shut down all of their fall sports, while the Power Five conferences have each for now moved to modified schedules based heavily on in-conference play.
UConn’s move, however, marks the first team in the upper FBS tier of college football in the United States to shut down its football program for the 2020 season, representing the first season since 1943 in the middle of World War II that the school did not play football.
“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,” said David Benedict, UConn director of athletics. “The safety challenges created by Covid-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk.”
UConn was set to compete in football as independent after competing a deal last year to shift to the Big East conference in 20 other sports. The school previously played in the American Athletic Conference.
The move also comes as the team had already lost games in recent weeks against teams in the Big 10 and Southeastern Conferences as those entities moved to conference-only schedules for all fall sports, and marked uncertainty existed around two more planned games against teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, whose teams are only planning one non-conference game each.
UConn players will remain enrolled at the university and retain their existing eligibility
“The necessary measures needed to mitigate the risk of football student-athletes contracting the coronavirus are not conducive to delivering an optimal experience for our team,” Benedict said. “Ultimately, the student-athletes would rather preserve their year of eligibility with an eye to competing under more typical circumstances during the 2021 season.”
College sports are under particular pressure amid the pandemic as they do not have the resources to construct and manage heavily quarantined environments to resume play in the way many professional leagues have.
And even if some type of season is still able to be played, other independents with the exception of Notre Dame, which has aligned with the ACC for this season, are likely to under additional pressure developing a schedule.
“We have not had the optimal time to train mentally and physically to be properly prepared to compete this season,” UConn’s football players said in a statement. “We came to campus in the beginning of July knowing there would be challenges presented by the pandemic but it is apparent those challenges are impossible to overcome.”
Hours after UConn’s decision, the entire lower tiers Division II and Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association similarly moved to cancel its fall sports championships due to the pandemic.
“Looking at the health and safety challenges we face this fall during this unprecedented time, we had to make this tough decision to cancel championships for fall sports this academic year in the best interest of our student-athlete and member institutions,” said Tori Murden McClure, chair of the Division III Presidents Council and president at Spalding University in Kentucky.
“Our Championships Committee reviewed the financial and logistical ramifications if Division III fall sports championships were conducted in the spring and found it was logistically untenable and financially prohibitive,” she said.
Division I will have until August 21 to determine what it will do about its fall sports championships.