The Ivy League said Wednesday it will not hold any sports events in the fall, becoming the first major conference to declare itself out of the game in football and other sports during the traditional September-to-December schedule.
While the Ivy League rarely gets the national sports spotlight, its decision is significant. Other conferences are on the fence about fall sports participation, particularly as campuses move toward online sessions for regular students. Athletic directors were aware of the Ivy League announcement and its potential impact on their own decisions.
Huge money is at stake. The NCAA rights to college football purchased by ESPN/ABC, Fox and CBS is estimated at $1.4 billion, with ESPN adding in an additional $5.6 billion for rights to the college football playoffs for a dozen years, according to Forbes. There’s additional money from regional conference networks in the pool, and, of course, ticket sales and sponsorships.
All of that goes toward funding athletic department budgets for all sports. At a time when applications are down, and foreign students face losing their visas if colleges open the fall with online-only classes, any revenue shortfall could be devastating.
The clock is ticking on a decision. College football training camps would need to open in a couple of weeks in order to start the season on time in late August. While professional teams can isolate themselves, doing so with amateur athletes on scholarship would be more difficult and unpopular.
Ivy League executive director Robin Harris told ESPN on Wednesday of his group’s decision. The Ivy League is still deciding about winter and spring sports, and has not reached any conclusion on whether it is feasible to stage fall sports in the spring. The league will review the situation in January.
Ivy League schools include Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Penn and Columbia.
Many college teams already have canceled workouts and reported that their student athletes have tested positive for COVID-19. The list includes such football powerhouses as Alabama and Clemson.
“We certainly are watching closely as Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA are doing things, and likewise we’ve certainly got to keep a close eye on what other colleagues in other conferences are doing,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby to ESPN. “But their circumstances are a little different than ours. Their locations are in places that are different than ours. We’re certainly going to pay attention to it, but I don’t know that it’s determinative, necessarily.”
The Ivy League has been in the forefront of canceling its sports. In March of this year, it was among the first conferences to halt its basketball tournament.