It wasn’t going to be easy for the University of Connecticut football team to have a season this year under any circumstances. In its first year without a conference affiliation, UConn had already lost several opponents as other teams look to limit travel and eliminate nonconference opposition in deference to the ongoing pandemic. There would have been work to do to find a full slate of games to play.
Instead, UConn officials made the right call last week in canceling the season altogether. In a decision that took into account the opinions of the student athletes, UConn made the difficult move to go without football for a season rather than put anyone at unnecessary risk.
It was the first, but will not be the last school in the nation to do so.
Elsewhere around the country, other schools and conferences are looking at delays. Some athletic directors have ruled out fall sports entirely, hoping that the situation improves in time for the winter or that time can be made up in the spring. But there’s no guarantee of an improving situation regarding the coronavirus. Everyone is hoping for the best, but we need to face reality. This is not going to go away on its own.
All of which puts the Connecticut high school decision earlier this year to go ahead with a shortened football season in a worse light. With so much attention being paid to social distancing inside the schools, it makes little sense to then send students out into close contact with others on the football field. Thankfully, officials showed signs this week of rethinking that call and pushing the high school football season to 2021.
For UConn football players, who will retain a year of eligibility by not having a season this year, it was likely a difficult decision and a hard reality to accept. Even if they have no plans for football beyond college, it’s still a huge part of their lives. Playing at a high level against top teams is something they’ve planned for their whole lives, and no one can predict what the future will hold. This could be their only shot.
Still, holding off on the season is the right decision. But it also raises new questions about the possibility of holding any sports this year, including UConn’s signature basketball programs. If it isn’t safe enough to play outdoors in October, it is likely not going to be safe indoors in January. And there’s little chance of getting college students into a professional-style “bubble” to ensure their safety from the virus.
That will be a decision for another day. Nothing about this process will be easy, and colleges and universities face many wrenching calls about opening safely while maintaining the well-being of students, faculty and staff. Still, anyone expecting a full slate of college sports anytime soon should start to prepare themselves for some disappointment.
It’s easy to overlook UConn football. It’s been many years since the team has won much of anything. But in this off-field decision, everyone involved made the right decision. The games can wait.