NCAA’s Mark Emmert: Need Better Handle on Pandemic to Have Fall College Sports

NCAA’s Mark Emmert: Need Better Handle on Pandemic to Have Fall College Sports

NCAA President Mark Emmert answers questions at a news conference at the Final Four college basketball tournament, Thursday, April 4, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Matt York/Associated Press

NCAA president Mark Emmert stated in no uncertain terms Thursday that college sports are in danger this fall because of the continued spread of COVID-19. 

College athletics’ top official pointed to recent trends in the number of cases nationally in sounding the alarm on fall sports.

“Today, sadly, the data point in the wrong direction,” Emmert said per ESPN’s Heather Dinich. “If there is to be college sports in the fall, we need to get a much better handle on the pandemic.”

Emmert’s comments come after the NCAA released its latest recommendations for health and safety guidelines. 

The updates include advice on daily self-health checks, testing and results within 72 hours of competition in high-contact-risk sports and the use of face coverings and social distancing when possible. 

In a follow-up tweet, the NCAA shared a graph showing a previous expectation the United States would see a decrease to less than 400 new cases per one million residents by July. At the time the NCAA began discussing a return to play, that number was at 600 cases per million. As of July, despite a two-month decrease, confirmed cases have risen back up to nearly 700 per million residents—far above similar results measured in Europe, Canada and Japan.


Although testing and contact tracing infrastructure have expanded considerably, the variations in approach to reopening America for business and recreation have correlated with a considerable spike in cases in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, a number of individual conferences have taken their own dramatic steps to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in recent weeks. The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced most of their fall sports teams, including football, soccer and women’s volleyball, will only play in-conference schedules this year. 

The Mid-American Conference announced Thursday it is postponing the start of fall Olympic sports until September 3. That followed a decision by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to suspend all fall sports indefinitely because of the pandemic. 

Those actions may become irrelevant if recent trends do not quickly begin to improve and the NCAA suspends fall sports across all conferences. 

“Any recommendation on a pathway toward a safe return to sport will depend on the national trajectory of COVID-19 spread,” NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline said. “The idea of sport resocialization is predicated on a scenario of reduced or flattened infection rates.”

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