NCAA president Mark Emmert said Thursday there won’t be fall NCAA championships because there are not enough schools participating due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — a decision that affects 22 championships, including FCS football.
“The board of governors also established if you don’t have half of the schools playing a sport, you can’t have a legitimate championship,” Emmert said in a video posted on the NCAA’s Twitter feed. “We can’t in any Division I NCAA championship sport now — which is everything other than FBS football that goes on in the fall. Sadly, tragically, that’s going to be the case this fall, full stop.”
The number of schools fell below 50% on Wednesday when the Big East announced its fall sports wouldn’t be played.
“I’m not sure now that it impacts what we’re doing in football that we’ve continued to move forward,” said West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, chair of the NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee. “Just because there’s no championship at the end doesn’t mean the whole fall is ruined for those student-athletes.”
Lyons said some FCS schools still plan on playing nonconference football games, but unlike in the FBS, where the national champion is determined through the College Football Playoff, FCS football won’t have its NCAA-sponsored championship.
When asked about the optics of that discrepancy, Lyons noted the Big 12’s plan to test its athletes three times each week — on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
“There’s always going to be the optics of that, but from our conference, when we went through this, we added a couple extra layers of testing as part of our requirement,” he said. “And that wasn’t only going to apply to football, that is going to apply to all of our fall sports. … Are we still going to be competing in those other sports in the fall? I don’t have that answer yet. As a conference we haven’t discussed it.”
Emmert said the fall sports, which include soccer, women’s volleyball and field hockey, should still turn to the winter and spring and try to create a legitimate championship for all of those students.
“My staff has been working hard on it, and talking to a lot of commissioners — all of them, all 32 of them in D-I, and there are ways to do this,” he said. “I’m completely confident that we can figure this out. If schools and conferences want to move forward, and try and have it and more than half of them want to do it — and that’s surely the indication now — then let’s do it. We can use the fall and keep kids healthy, keep them engaged with their coaches and their athletic departments. Focus on their academic success. Work with them and let them practice and stay ready to play, then let’s go compete at that time.”
A decision as to whether the championships could be moved to the spring might come when the NCAA’s board of directors meets on Aug. 21.
The NCAA already announced last week that fall sports championships in Division II and Division III were canceled and would not be rescheduled for spring.
Kathy DeBoer, executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, said, “The groups that make these decisions are division-specific, so we stay hopeful for a different outcome in D-I.”
In a statement Thursday, the SEC said it will review the impact of championships being canceled in soccer, volleyball and cross country.
“Our soccer, volleyball and cross-country student-athletes are working hard to prepare for their seasons and they have been diligent in taking personal health precautions and following protocols around COVID-19,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. “We will support them in every way possible as we evaluate the impact of these cancellations on their fall sports seasons.”
The Big 12 is also assessing what the decision means for its schools and whether they would consider moving their fall sports to the spring.
“[We] will be discussing [the] NCAA decision with our membership in the near future, and whether they want to consider options,” Big 12 senior associate commissioner Bob Burda told ESPN.
North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance, whose program has won 21 NCAA titles, said he didn’t support having a season in the fall if there is no NCAA championship to play for then.
“All the elite teams have players that can sign pro contracts right now, so it would be extraordinarily selfish for any of us to ask a player to stay [without a championship to play for],” Dorrance said.
Thursday’s announcement by Emmert wasn’t surprising, but that didn’t necessarily take away the sting.
“We knew it was coming,” Duke women’s soccer coach Robbie Church said. “We’ve been counting the numbers and the teams going out. But once it’s reality, it hurts.”
ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel and Graham Hays contributed to this report.