College sports are big businesses. This should be no surprise given the widespread popularity of college football bowl games, March Madness and Frozen Four series. All of these beloved sporting events and competitions’ futures come into question as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact scheduling and creates numerous safety concerns over resuming seasons.
Sporting events pose significant risks as spectators crowd into tightly packed stands and shared facilities. These close-quarter conditions can serve as ground zero for an infectious virus and violate minimal social distancing guidelines. Not only are spectators and fans at risk, but also athletes who compete and train in close quarter conditions with their teammates. In response to this concern, the California College Athletic Association (CCAA) decided to suspend all NCAA competition for the Fall 2020 season. This decision comes in lockstep with the chancellor of the California State University System’s announcement that all 23 campuses will remain closed with academic instruction conducted remotely through the fall semester. The California State University system’s decision impacts over 480,00 students and calls into question how other major universities and their respective athletic departments will respond as well.
While the CCAA is only one athletic conference composed of a dozen Division II institutions, it represents a grave concern and potential turning point for athletic conferences and programs nationwide. Collegiate athletic programs nationwide must be able to ensure the health and safety of both spectators and athletes before sporting events may resume. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters, “if you can’t guarantee safety, then, unfortunately, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, ‘we may have to go without this sport for this season.’”
The question over whether to resume athletic competitions is a concern for many Union College student-athletes and faculty. An important question affecting many in the Union community is whether the college will allow athletic competitions and seasons to continue in the post-COVID environment. With over a third of the student body involved in at least one sport, college athletics is an integral part of the Union experience to numerous students. In a recent interview, Director of Athletics, Jim McLaughlin ’93, told the Concordiensis that the college is “considering a variety of options,” and awaits more guidance from the State of New York and NCAA before moving ahead. He is coordinating with his fellow athletic directors across the Liberty League and the Eastern College Athletic Conference to come to a consensus on potential changes to scheduling and concerns over safety. When asked about his personal thoughts on the matter, McLaughlin responded optimistically, “we’ve been focusing on when we will be competing rather than if we will be competing.” Whatever the outcome, college and league officials must be able to ensure the health and safety of spectators and athletes alike before proceeding ahead.