The NCAA Board of Governors released a 1,246-word document on Wednesday relating to the conduct of fall sports this year, but there are only a few points of new ground covered and a handful of new protocols to be implemented.
Two of those are a requirement to honor scholarships if a player opts out of competition and the establishment of a hotline to report issues. Also included in the document are additional requirements that must be met in order to conduct championship events.
At its foundation, the document puts the onus on each division, and its member schools and conferences, to meet requirements for the health and safety of athletes and their well-being. It restates many guidelines that were already in place. It also separates Divisions I, II and III in terms of determining whether they can conduct regular and postseason competition safely.
Shortly after the announcement, the Presidents Council for both Division II and Division III each voted to cancel all fall intercollegiate athletic championships in those divisions.
“The board has determined the best course of action to ensure appropriate consideration of the wide-ranging concerns of the membership and the health and safety priorities of student-athletes is to direct each division to take appropriate actions based on requirements identified and approved by the board,” the preamble to the NCAA Board of Governors’ decision on fall sports championships reads.
Boiled down, that means each division is on its own to follow the guidelines and determine if they can be met. Among the requirements:
• All member schools must adhere to federal, state and local guidelines related to COVID-19. Further, the conduct of NCAA fall sports championships must be in line with federal, state and local guidelines.
• All member schools conducting fall sports programs must employ and adhere to the protocols set forth in the Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Developing Standards for Practice and Competition document and subsequent updates. Such protocols should be implemented for all athletically related activities (voluntary, required and out of season) and in-season practice and competition (preseason, regular season and postseason). If a change in local circumstances warrants a discontinuation of athletics activities, schools should make that decision in conjunction with public health officials as outlined in the resocialization document. We have set guidelines that schools must follow, but these guidelines do not support attempting sports in areas where there is significant spread of the virus.
• Because the resocialization document (and later updates) cannot speak to every scenario or circumstance involving potential exposure to COVID-19, it must not be used as an absolute fail-safe document but rather should be augmented with guidance from campus, local, state and federal authorities and other bodies most familiar with the specific circumstances of a community.
• All fall sports postseason competition involving NCAA student-athletes must adhere to the protocols set forth in the Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Developing Standards for Practice and Competition document and subsequent updates.
Schools must also allow athletes to opt out of participation if they have concerns about COVID-19, and still keep their scholarships. That includes providing accommodations, which also extends to those who contract COVID-19. Schools cannot force players to sign any waivers of legal rights in order to play, and each division must create rules that will cover COVID-19 related health costs if an infection was reasonably believed to have been caused by athletics participation. (West Virginia safety K.J. Martin has opted out, becoming the first WVU athlete to publicize that decision.)
The Board of Governors also released rules for the conduct of championship events, with rules pertaining to those in addition to the ones covering league play. These rules cover all fall sports championships and postseason play except for those of Division I Football Bowl Subdivision teams. FBS bowl games and the College Football Playoffs are not administered by the NCAA.
Rules for all other fall sports championships, including cross country, field hockey, soccer, volleyball, water polo, the Division I Football Championship Subdivision have been set, and must be met by Aug. 21.
• NCAA fall sports championships must be conducted using the principles associated with developing enhanced safety for student-athletes and essential athletics personnel. Such enhanced safety includes regular testing, separation of student-athletes and essential personnel from all other nonessential personnel, and physical distancing and masking policies during all aspects of noncompetition.
• If 50% or more of eligible teams in a particular sport in a division cancel or postpone their fall season, there will be no NCAA fall championship in that sport.
• If any division elects to postpone fall sports championships, the decision to conduct the championships at later dates must be based on the scientific data available at that time, as well as an assessment of the operational, logistical and financial impact of proceeding. When a championship is set to occur on a new date, an additional assessment must be made using the same factors (scientific data available at the time and operational, logistical and financial impact), and the division will report its determinations to the Board of Governors for its review.
• If a decision is made to move forward with fall sports championships, there must be a plan for scaling down the number of championship sites, including the possibility of single sites where appropriate, reduced bracketing, fewer competitors, and similar actions to create efficient and effective events.
• A division may allow for some fall sports championships to occur and others not be conducted based on level of risk to the student-athlete, but in all instances, decisions must comport with the Association’s commitment to gender equity.
The hotline, which will consist of a phone number and email address, must be established by Aug. 14. It can be used to report situations where an athletic program may not be meeting any of the safety rules and protocols, or is operating in a manner that puts players at risk.
“Upon receiving a concern the NCAA will notify the campus athletics health care administrator and conference office about the concern. The athletics health care administrator will be expected to take immediate reasonable measures to review the concern and notify the NCAA of action taken, if action is necessary,” the NCAA’s requirements document states.
“This direction from the board requires each division to take action through its governance process and must include the requirements below for conducting fall sports seasons and related championships,” the statement continued. “The board will actively monitor any fall championship approach, and after receiving information from a division, retains the ability to make a final determination that fall sports championships will be cancelled. Further, this decision and direction only applies to fall sports and related championships, and decisions regarding winter and spring sports and related championships will be made at a later date.”