Many of us knew it was coming, but the official announcement still stings.
Officials with the Big Ten Conference — perhaps the most storied league in college sports, with some of the nation’s most iconic teams — announced this week that fall sports will not take place as planned this year. That includes Big Ten football, which is a cultural hallmark and a major economic driver in Midwest communities such as Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa.
The Big Ten — which includes UI, as well as neighbors in Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois — became the first major college sports conference to upend its fall seasons.
Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the great uncertainty American college campuses will encounter in the coming weeks and months, this is probably the best decision in pursuit of keeping students, staff and fans safe from preventable COVID-19 infections. Nixing games, however, does not negate the responsibility universities have to their student-athletes.
In a letter to Big Ten presidents that was leaked to the media, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, urged colleges not to cancel their football seasons: “Canceling the fall season would mean closing down socially distanced, structured programs for these athletes. Young men will be pushed away from universities that are uniquely positioned to provide them with testing and health care.”
While we support the decision to forego college sports in the upcoming fall semester, we are sympathetic to Sasse’s point, and would extend it beyond just football players. When college athletes commit to a program, they do so with an understanding that they will be supported by the institution. An infectious disease pandemic does not wash away that commitment.
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Some coaches and administrators are looking for ways to revive their seasons by scheduling non-conference games. Even if a few games can be scheduled, there’s no assurance they too won’t be called off as the reality of mass gatherings during the pandemic becomes clearer.
Instead of working around the Big Ten’s decision, campus leaders should refocus on the task of keeping students safe and healthy, with hopes that games can be rescheduled in the spring, assuming the public health situation improves.
As Americans struggle with decisions about what to cancel and what to carry out during the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been quick to point out that sports are less important than health.
That’s very true, but sports are not nothing. If we hope to have any college sports in the 2020-2021 academic year, we must make smart sacrifices now.
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