After kicking the coronavirus can for weeks, the NCAA has finally set an end to its road: Aug. 21.

The NCAA’s three divisions have until that date to decide whether to hold national championships for fall sports. It’s possible the major powers in Division I could choose a different path than the smaller programs in Division III, and the NCAA made it clear in announcements Wednesday that skipping fall sports is possible, depending on the course of the pandemic.

But at least athletes and fans now have a deadline on when to expect long-awaited news on the fate of football and everything else.

By allowing each division to figure out its own course of action, the NCAA’s Board of Governors acknowledged not all schools exist on the same financial platform.

“We understand that each division’s primary focus is health and safety, and some may not be similarly situated in terms of whether its members and governance structure have the resources available to take the necessary precautions (for regular-season competition or championships) given the health data trends and the spread of COVID-19,” the board wrote.

If half the eligible teams in a sport or division cancel or postpone the season, the NCAA won’t hold a championship. A division could choose to hold championships in one event but not others, too, “based on level of risk to the student-athlete.”

The board also stressed its worries over continued outbreaks.

“We have very serious concerns about the continuing high levels of COVID-19 infection in many parts of our nation,” the board wrote. “The board has determined that it will only support moving forward with fall championships and other postseason play if strict conditions are applied and adhered to.”

The NCAA’s guidelines “do not support attempting sports in areas where there is significant spread of the virus,” and schools should work with public health officials about discontinuing a season, based on any deteriorating local conditions.

It’s unclear how major college football will be affected. The postseason in FBS football isn’t run by the NCAA; it flows through the College Football Playoff and bowls. Major conferences have been deciding their own scheduling choices on their own in recent weeks.

The NCAA also addressed several other practical factors. Schools must honor the scholarships of any players who choose to opt out because of COVID-19 concerns, but their future eligibility will be determined by each division by next Friday.
Schools cannot require players to waive their legal rights, and they must cover all coronavirus-related medical expenses for athletes.

“Student-athletes should never feel pressured into playing their sport if they do not believe it is safe to do so,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. “These policies ensure they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about playing this fall.”


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