‘It was just a matter of time’: NCAA calls off all non-football Division I fall sports championships

photo by: Kyle Babson

KU volleyball plays its first match in the newly renovated Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena against Morehead State Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019.

The Big 12, SEC and ACC may be forging ahead with fall sports, but there will be no postseason championships for their non-football athletes to chase, the NCAA announced Thursday.

“We cannot now at this point have fall NCAA championships,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a video Thursday evening, “because there’s not enough schools participating.”

The decision doesn’t impact the FBS football programs that remain moving toward competition, but covers all other sports, including volleyball, soccer and cross country — three programs impacted at the University of Kansas. The Big 12 decided earlier this week to play conference-only schedules in soccer and volleyball.

KU soccer head coach Mark Francis told the Journal-World Thursday night that he was grateful, at least, that the Jayhawks weren’t caught off guard.

“It was just a matter of time,” Francis said. “We just feel fortunate right now that we still have the chance to train, that we still have a season and that we still have the chance to compete. We’re thankful for our university and the Big 12 for allowing us to do that, and we’re looking forward to the season.”

KU volleyball coach Ray Bechard also said in a statement to the Journal-World that the NCAA’s decision on fall championships felt inevitable.

“Though disappointed, we will use this decision to demonstrate our core values — grit and grace,” Bechard said. “We will continue to train with purpose and be thankful for the opportunities Kansas Athletics provides for us.”

The NCAA’s Board of Governors decided earlier in August that fall sports championships couldn’t take place if 50% or more of eligible teams in a sport canceled or postponed their fall seasons. As more conferences around the country, most notably the Big Ten and Pac-12, shut down their fall sports in the past week, having some smaller form of fall national championships became impossible, at least for now.

“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t and can’t turn toward winter and spring,” Emmert said, “and say, ‘How can we create a legitimate championship for those students?’ There are ways to do this. I am completely confident we can figure this out.”

Emmert said the NCAA would prioritize staging championships in winter and spring sports because those — including the NCAA basketball tournaments — were canceled when COVID-19 first spiked across the U.S. in March.

Moving fall sports to the spring still must go through the Division I Council, which consists of representatives of all 32 conferences, and be approved by the DI Board of Directors.

“If we modify the model, which we need to do anyway because of the virus, shrink the bracket sizes, do everything in predetermined sites instead of running kids around the country. Use predetermined sites, move toward a bubble or semi-bubble models,” Emmert said. “Will it be normal? Of course not. Will it create other conflicts and challenges? Of course. But is it doable? Yeah.”

The previous week, Divisions II and III canceled their fall championships. Division I — which consists of 357 schools — held on, but as conference after conference canceled fall seasons, the tipping point came.

Earlier in the day, the NCAA’s chief medical officer and two of its infectious disease expert advisers in an AP report warned that the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States remains an enormous obstacle for college sports to overcome.

“I feel like the Titanic. We have hit the iceberg, and we’re trying to make decisions of what time should we have the band play,” said Dr. Carlos Del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University.

Del Rio said conferences are coming to different decisions not because they have different information, but because they are assessing risk differently.

“Some conferences will say, we’ll go forward. It’s a very narrow path, hopefully they’ll be no infections and if there are infections we’ll be able to detect them, and we we’ll be able to stop them and we won’t have an outbreak,” Del Rio said. “But other conferences say, no. Our tolerance is for zero risk and therefore we will not have it. It’s exactly the same data just being looked at in different ways.”


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