NCAA football oversight asks board for time on fall sports

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FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2020, file photo, LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2) is tackled by Clemson during the first half of an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game in New Orleans. The NCAA's latest guidance for playing college sports during the COVID-19 pandemic recommends testing players once a week within 72 hours of competition. For typical Saturday football games, that means Wednesday would be the soonest athletes would be tested. Is that enough for a team of about 100 athletes playing a contact sport to get through a season without major disruptions? Especially, considering simply being exposed to someone who tests positive can land an athlete in quarantine for two weeks? (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

The NCAA football oversight committee is asking the association’s Board of Governors to avoid making a decision soon on whether to conduct fall championships as college sports tries to find a path to play through the pandemic.

A letter dated July 21 was sent by committee chairman Shane Lyons, the West Virginia athletic director, to the board before it meets Friday. The letter was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press and first reported on by Yahoo Sports.

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“We acknowledge that the path forward will be challenging, and that the virus may ultimately dictate outcomes,” the letter says. “We are simply requesting that the Board of Governors not make an immediate decision on the outcome of fall championships, so that conferences and schools may have ample latitude to continue to evaluate the viability of playing football this fall.”

College sports leaders have warned if conditions across the country did not improve, football and other fall sports will be in jeopardy.

“I get asked every day if college sports will return this fall. The consensus opinion among our health advisers is significant change must occur for that to happen,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said Wednesday while testifying during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing mainly focused on how to allow college athletes to earn money from their names, images and likenesses.

The board is the NCAA's highest-ranking governing body, comprised mostly of university presidents representing all three divisions of its nearly 1,300 member schools. Its next official meeting is scheduled for Aug. 4 and Friday's session is ad hoc.

The board has the power to call off NCAA championship events in fall sports such as soccer, women’s volleyball and lower-division football, including the second tier of Division I known as the Championship Subdivision.

Five FCS conferences have already postponed their football seasons, though among them the Ivy League, Southwestern Athletic Conference and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference do not participate in the playoffs.

The NCAA has no authority to postpone or cancel specific seasons, a decision that would be up to individual schools or their conferences. But canceling or postponing NCAA championships could increase pressure for conferences to call off sports — including at the top-tier of college football, where Bowl Subdivision conferences are weighing options.

“While experience has shown that the impact of the virus can shift dramatically from week to week, the committee strongly believes that a patient approach to evaluating the possibility of conducting 2020 fall championships will provide the remaining conferences and schools the best opportunity to make deliberate decisions about conducting practices and competition this fall," the oversight committee wrote.

The FBS conferences control major college football's postseason, with dozens of bowl games and the four-team College Football Playoff to determine a champion. The NCAA has no role.

The FBS season is scheduled to start around the Labor Day weekend. The prospects of that seem to be dimming after COVID-19 cases surged over the last three weeks in many states.

At the hearing, Emmert also said he is “categorically opposed” to liability waivers some schools have had athletes sign as the return to campus to prepare for their sports seasons.

“It is an inappropriate thing for schools to be doing,” he said.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already announced they will play only conferences games this season as a way to manage anticipated disruptions from the spread of COVID-19.

Neither conference has released a revised schedule yet. The Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference haven't made any decisions on whether to modify schedules, but expect to provide more clarity by the end of nex week. Modified and truncated schedules could delay the start of the season, buying more time for conditions to improve.

Administrators have said they would like to see how the return of students to campus during August effects the surrounding communities and athletic departments' ability to keep athletes virus-free.

Now there are questions about how soon colleges and universities will allow students back on campus. Clemson President Jim Clements announced Wednesday that the semester will start online and in-person classes will be delayed four weeks because of COVID-19 cases in South Carolina.


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