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Reality biting hard for prospect of college sports this fall and beyond

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COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon.

Aaron Breitman

Update: On Thursday after this stjory was posted, the Big Ten announced IF fall sports take place, it will be conference only. For the full statement, click here.

Original Story:

The second week of July is in full swing. It’s usually a time of hope just before fall sports enter training camp and the possibilities for success in the seasons ahead seem endless.

For Rutgers, field hockey and women’s soccer are set to return veteran rosters and likely to be ranked in the preseason polls. Men’s soccer has several exciting newcomers to join the program in year two of Jim McElderry’s rebuild after being ranked for a time last season. And of course, the Greg Schiano era 2.0 is set to begin in what we all hope marks a long last transformation of the football program.

Unfortunately, reality of the real world is making the chances of any of these teams taking the field this fall at best an uncertainty and at worst not likely at all.

Note: After this article was published, the Ivy League announced they cancelled fall sports and won’t consider playing anything until at least January 1st, 2021.

It’s such a pressing issue that new Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway addressed it in his opening press conference this past Monday. In this article by James Kratch of NJ Advance Media, Holloway stated “We do not yet know the outlook for the fall football season or other fall sports, The (conference) council of presidents and chancellors are in intense conversations about this. We will be following the guidance of the conference, and we are certainly keeping a close eye on how things develop with [scheduled re-starts in the NBA and Major League Baseball]. More information on that front will be coming out very soon. If I had to guess, within two weeks there will be a final declaration.”

The reality of today is that COVID-19 remains a serious health issue in the United States, so much that the new normal offer everyday life isn’t even close to beginning.

The medical community, including the nation’s top infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci, believe we are still very much in the first phase of this global pandemic. Whatever life is like this fall, it certainly won’t be anything close to what we’ve experienced in our lifetimes.

Let me be clear in stating I don’t believe the fate of sports is anywhere close to as important as the health issues that jeopardize the livelihood of so many people in our country and across the world. It’s just that we hoped back in the spring when COVID-19 first caused changes in our daily lives and abruptly ended collegiate winter sports, including the best season Rutgers basketball had in years, that the country would be in better shape by mid-summer and fall sports would be able to take place in as close to normal a fashion as possible.

As of today, that prospect seems unlikely. With cases rising 27% across the country in the past week, the probability of universities across the US making classes this fall almost all online seems high. Rutgers announced the decision to do just that this week, despite the fact New Jersey is in a much better situation currently than pretty much any other state in the country. While student-athletes might still be able to participate on campus, the bigger question is should they?

Holloway admitted the financial impact that football has on the university, stating “the effect of no season will be material,” and, “It’s very serious. It relates to the number of games that are on air, potential bowl game revenue, it’s just a whole [slew] of things.” He continued that it’s more than that though, expanding the impact across other sports as well. “And yes, that does have a real impact on other sports. The fact of the matter is, also, football is the most expensive sport by far at any university. So the effect will be within football. But there is a larger question here that if football is not able to proceed for health reasons, safety reasons ... men’s and women’s basketball are almost contact sports, essentially, with less protective gear. So what happens there? There are a lot of downstream issues that we have to think through.”

There is another key question. If fall sports can’t take place as scheduled, what does that mean for winter sports? Practice typically begins for basketball at the end of September with the first game in early November. Does wrestling seem like a realistic activity as of today? Obviously, we are still only in July and it’s wise for the decision makers to wait as long as possible before pushing back season start dates, or worst case, cancelling them altogether.

Spring football and basketball taking place from January through May are ideas gaining traction nationally. It makes sense to consider these alternatives, even if they open up issues with television, pro eligibility and others. It seems everything done to salvage college sports in some way will be made, rather than cancel them altogether. However, the safety and wellbeing of those involved, from the student-athletes to the coaches and everyone in between need to be seriously considered as well.

How bad Rutgers football has been in recent seasons or the inability to win a conference championship across the athletic department since joining the Big Ten are issues I now officially miss complaining about. Those were the days.