NCAA president, commissioners appear at odds on playing possibly without students back


by - Staff Writer -
Emmert sees a gradual increasing of fans if all goes well with containing virus.
Emmert sees a gradual increasing of fans if all goes well with containing virus.

NCAA president Mark Emmert and Power 5 commissioners appear to have increasingly differing views on what a sports season could look like this fall surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Not long ago after a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, they seemed to be on the same side of no college athletics happening without the regular student body back on campus as well. Emmert is still in that camp but Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said this week that online classes would suffice in a report by Stadium.

“Going to class in an online sense is satisfactory,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told the outlet. “There’s room for that to happen. School has to be in session, student-athletes have to be going to class.”

Emmert missed that memo in his talk on a NCAA Q&A Friday.

“In Division I for sure, all of the commissioners and every president that I’ve talked to is in clear agreement: If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus," he said. "That doesn't mean it has to be up-and-running in the full, normal model. But you have to treat the health and well-being of the athletes as much as the regular students. If a school doesn't re-open, they aren't going to be playing sports and it's really that simple.

"...We're not going to relax on health and well-being. Will that mean some school doesn't play as full a schedule as another school and that may create some inequity in their ability to participate in a championship? Possibly. We'll have to cross that bridge when we get there. But you build everything around safety. I'll be delighted to have those debates later in the fall."

An Associated Press report this week had nine of the 14 ACC schools with announced plans to re-open campuses for students this fall.

Once schools figure out how to get back on the field, which NCAA chief medical expert Brian Hainline said it looks like will come after a 4-6 week prep time, the matter of if fans -- and how many -- can attend the games will be tackled.

Hainline said the likely scenario is to start small with fan attendance and hopefully build from there. Emmert agrees.

"Just because there is some regulation that’s been lifted, that doesn’t automatically mean you should immediately put 105,000 fans in a football stadium," Emmert said. "The proper and sensible thing to do is use this phased approach that (Hainline) and the advisory team are talking about and indeed the federal government has been talking about where you start at one end..and continue along. It’s plausible to me that in football you see very limited fan access -- but by later in the season as things develop in hopefully a very positive way -- you all of a sudden can see larger fanbases attending.

"It’s not clear to me socially where communities are whether or not 105,000 fans are ready to sit in a stadium side-by-side like that. That’s an important piece of this is making sure people have choices they can make that they are comfortable with."

Emmert says they also have to weigh the factor of potential outbreaks in the fall as well.

"Then there’s the scenario that we’re all a little nervous over but we have to think about is what if we have an outbreak in a community on a campus," he said. "What do we do then? How does the campus and fanbase handle it? What do you do with the student-athletes? We’ve got a just a little bit of time to think about it because that’s certainly plausible with 1,100 NCAA schools and 19,000 teams and half a million student-athletes. The arithmetic is not in your favor if you think you’re not going to have any outbreaks in that cohort.

"We’re working through all of these scenarios for all the best medical and public-health advice we can to bear and helping the schools and conferences make decisions accordingly."

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