“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,” UConn athletic director David Benedict said in a press release. “The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk.”
The fate of college football is a multi-billion-dollar matter for a wide range of TV industry stakeholders. Disney and Fox Corp. execs were pressed by Wall Street analysts for their outlook on the season during earnings calls Tuesday but declined to offer much comment.
Randy Edsall, head coach of the Huskies, said the focus of the team in the months to come will be on player development ahead of the 2021 season.
UConn is better known for basketball than football, though the school has consistently had players move on to NFL careers. Now an independent, the university was previously a member of the American Athletic Conference. It is part of the NCAA’s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), formerly known as Division I-A, the highest level of college football.
Connecticut as a state has fared a lot better than most of the country when it comes to COVID-19, with rates continuing to decline over the past couple of months. No UConn players tested positive for the coronavirus in recent weeks. But program officials had started to see some games dropped from the fall schedule due to other schools’ travel restrictions and they simultaneously came to the internal conclusion that the risk was too great.
Major conferences like the SEC and the Big Ten have announced they will play modified schedules starting in early September, mostly emphasize games within their own ranks. Athletes have begun to report to campuses across the country, with many showing outbreaks of coronavirus infection as levels surge nationwide. One example is defending national champion LSU, which had at least 30 cases of the virus last month upon initial testing during pre-season training.
While playing within conferences minimizes travel and potential exposure, in theory, even riding a bus and going from state to state brings considerable risk. Clusters of COVID-19 in Major League Baseball, which has hit teams like the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals especially hard, forcing the postponement of dozens of games, have raised alarms as football season approaches. Unlike the NBA or NHL, baseball (like football) has opted not to adopt a “bubble” approach to keep activity within strict boundaries.
The NFL, which is due to start September 10, has taken steps to limit COVID-19 risk and implement extensive testing and other protocols, as well as expecting that professional players will accept a degree of risk in order to play. College, though, is something different. Players are unpaid and they mix with a larger population.