In a decision that could set a precedent for college sports, the Ivy League announced Wednesday that its schools will not be participating in the fall sports season as the country continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
As many athletes returned to campus last month for voluntary workouts, the Ivy’s decision made it the first Division 1 conference to put football on hold. Pushing back football to the spring semester has been discussed by NCAA officials, however, the Ivy League said any decisions on when it might restart fall sports — as well as the fate of winter and spring sports — will be made at a later date.
In a joint statement, the Ivy League council of presidents emphasized that, based on the latest data — with confirmed cases trending upward nationwide — the prudent decision was to refrain from a return. Harvard announced this week that only 40 percent of undergrads will be on campus.
“As a leadership group, we have a responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of the students who attend our institutions, as well as the faculty and staff who work at our schools,” the statement read. “These decisions are extremely difficult, particularly when they impact meaningful student-athlete experiences that so many value and cherish.
“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.
“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 Ivy League will allow student-athletes to practice in accordance with school and state regulations, using a “phased-approach,” starting with limited individual workouts to small group activities. Athletes in fall sports will not lose a year of eligibility.
With the concern about a second wave of the pandemic in the winter, the decision to forgo sports until next year will give the Ivy League time to assess the situation on an ongoing basis.
The Ivy League was the first conference to take precautionary steps at the beginning of the pandemic, canceling its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on March 10. The next day, the league canceled all athletics through the remainder of the spring. The NCAA followed suit shortly thereafter.
The Ivy’s decision was widely criticized initially but proved to be ahead of the curve. As conferences now survey the path ahead, however, the Ivy’s decision may be worth following for Football Championship Conferences such as the Patriot League (driven more by academics than revenue) but not necessarily a realistic model for Power Five and Group of Five conferences (where football is a driving financial force for many athletic departments).
Two Power Five football programs, Ohio State and North Carolina, on Wednesday halted its voluntary workouts because of recent positive tests with its athletic teams.
Canceling competition will have ramifications beyond the Ancient Eight. Harvard, for instance, had games scheduled against Georgetown, Holy Cross, and Lafayette of the Patriot League. Brown had games lined up against Bryant (Northeast Conference), Rhode Island (Colonial Athletic Association), and Holy Cross.
For the first time since 1944, Harvard and Yale will not meet on the gridiron in the fall, ending a string of 136 consecutive editions of the storied rivalry game.
“It’s painful to hear for my teammates and I, but we will come out of it better than we were before,” Harvard senior receiver Ryan Reagan said. “I’m going to keep training and preparing for whenever we can play and am looking forward for the opportunity to play again with my boys.”
Incoming Harvard freshman Alex Fleury of North Andover, a three-time All-American runner at Phillips Andover, said it was hard to imagine fall sports would be held in the current circumstances. “However, this does not imply the absence of all workouts and conditioning,” he said. “I am confident that Harvard, along with the other Ivy League schools, will allow for smaller groups to continue with a modified training schedule. Since all students should be tested before entering campus, the close proximity between athletes while working out should not be an issue (assuming safe behavior).
“For the track and cross country teams, the majority of the incoming freshman have expressed their preference to be there this fall (as opposed to taking a gap year or gap semester). As incoming freshman will constitute the majority of the student population in the fall, I am confident in the quality and consistency of training that will unfold. This situation will only make us stronger and more determined for the next competition.”
Globe correspondent Trevor Hass and Craig Larson of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.