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Decisions regarding fall sports for Rutgers & Big Ten should come soon

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The reality of COVID-19 changes weekly, but what that means for the fall sports season should be more clear in June.

Aaron Breitman

As the calendar turns to June next week, it will bring important decisions soon after regarding whether Big Ten athletics will take place this fall. All organized on campus team activities have been prohibited by the conference since March with June 1st as the current date for it to expire, after being previously extended. It could expire after this weekend or be extended again. However, with the NCAA having already announced that Division I programs could resume voluntary workouts on June 1st, there is hope the Big Ten will follow suit.

The bigger question is whether fall sports and most importantly due to the financial impact the sport has, football, will take place as typically scheduled in the coming months? Here is a review of what know and don’t know as May comes to an end.

We know the decision to play this fall will be handled at the conference level and that the SEC, Big XII and PAC-12 will resume voluntary workouts in June and each having stated intentions to play in the fall.

We know that the Big Ten Presidents are set to meet on June 7th to discuss the fall season, among other big issues. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren stated in an interview with CNBC on May 6th that he was planning to make a decision about fall sports in six to eight weeks, which would signal an announcement in the second half of June. Perhaps it will come sooner and in coordination with the Presidents meeting in the coming days.

ESPN reported last week that the conference will leave it up to each school in regard to resuming on campus workouts. Illinois, Iowa and Ohio State have all announced athletes will return in June.

In regard to the fall season, some conference members have made relevant comments towards the entire situation, including whether students would return to campus for the new academic year and if they don’t whether sports would resume.

In April, Purdue President Mitchell Daniels Jr. announced the school planned for students back on campus in the fall.

One Big Ten President, Michigan’s Mark Schlissel, recently told the Wall Street Journal that there would be no sports at his institution if there were no students on campus. He wasn’t just talking about one season either, as Schlissel stated, “Any decision we make for this coming fall is likely going to be the case for the whole academic year.” His comments carry even more weight because Schlissel is a doctor and professor of immunology and microbiology.

Related to student-athletes specifically, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said this week that any Hawkeye athlete that wished not to compete in the next academic year would not have their scholarship impacted. This should be the standard for all Division I schools.

In regard to football, The NY Times wrote this week about the risks regarding COVID-19 if the sport resumes training in full in late summer for the fall season. Earlier this month I touched on the unique role Rutgers has in all of this as being located in the second most infected state and right next to the most in New York. It certainly makes the obstacles for its athletics programs to resume campus activities more challenging than other Big Ten schools.

One thing we know for certain is that if football is going to take place this fall as already scheduled, teams need to have a longer training camp than in previous years. It’s typically about four weeks, but with no spring practices and no team workouts since March, more time is needed. Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports gave some indication of what could happen on Thursday night in this tweet:

If that is approved and adopted by the Big Ten, that means Rutgers football would need to begin training camp around the last week of July to be ready for it’s season opener on September 5th against Monmouth. That’s still two months away, but the decision would obviously need to come sooner rather than later. The first decision needed is when on campus voluntary workouts can begin, preferably in June, for the fall sports and hopefully more programs from other seasons as well.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on WFAN on Wednesday that it was “too early to tell” when student-athletes could return to the Rutgers campus. On Friday afternoon, Murphy said this:

What Rutgers plans to do in regard to all of its students for the fall semester remains to be seen, but James Kratch of NJ Advance Media wrote on Friday that plan for the entire university is expected to be announced soon.

In this extensive interview with Rutgers AD Pat Hobbs about whether student-athletes could potentially return to train for the fall season ahead of the Rutgers suspension of campus activities, he told me “the university recognizes we might bring back student athletes before that August 14 date and are referring to the best guidance we are receiving out of the Big Ten.”

If the Big Ten does agree to play it’s regulary scheduled fall season, Rutgers needs to make a decision quickly or risk falling behind the rest of the conference. Of course, any decision to resume athletics needs to be well thought out and place the health and safety of all involved as the top priority. There should be confidence that new President Jonathan Holloway and Hobbs will make sure that it is.

It’s been a time of great unknowns in all facets of life the past few months, not just in America, but the world, due to COVID-19. New Jersey has been greatly impacted and when Rutgers returns to campus and on the playing fields remains to be seen. However, June should bring a lot of answers and for now all we can do remain hopeful that we can cheer for our favorite Scarlet Knights teams this fall, even if it is remotely.