Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Chances for Ivy League sports this fall look slim, with announcement expected Wednesday | Mike Jensen

Harvard didn't leave much room for fall sports in its return-to-campus plan. Football could be pushed to the spring.

The Penn football team gets ready to take the field against Sacred Heart last October at Franklin Field.
The Penn football team gets ready to take the field against Sacred Heart last October at Franklin Field.Read moreHeather Khalifa / File Photograph

The announcement is due Wednesday from the Ivy League, about what that league’s plans are for sports in the fall.

Here’s what to expect: No sports.

You can’t read Harvard’s announcement Monday about its own campus plans for the full 2020-21 academic year and think the Crimson folks are hoping to wedge football games into their campus fall plan up in Cambridge. Even sports during the spring semester sound in question, although don’t expect clear guidance anytime soon on that front.

Harvard announced it will have no in-class learning for the entire academic year, fall and spring, but will have up to 40 percent of its undergraduates in residence, prioritizing freshmen in the fall and seniors in the spring. Such a plan leaves very little wiggle room for sports, unless Harvard announces a whole bunch of asterisks for its athletes.

“This decision has implications for our Athletics program,” Harvard announced Monday. “We anticipate that the Ivy League will issue a decision on July 8 about fall sports competitions and training. Even in the absence of this guidance, we acknowledge that our medium density plan will necessarily place limits on what athletic activities are possible at Harvard this fall. An enhanced focus on wellness will be important for all members of our community. Wellness programming and resources will be developed by the Department of Athletes, Harvard University Health Services’ Center for Health and Wellness, the Dean of Students Office and other partnering organizations.”

Pro tip: Schools aren’t coming up with wellness programs for athletes in the midst of their competitive seasons.

Also, Harvard isn’t just waiting for the Ivy guidance, since the school is helping write it. Yale and Princeton have just announced similar fall wrinkles. All students won’t be on campus at any of the three schools. Penn’s fall plan, announced June 25, has all undergraduates on campus but all sorts of restrictions. Large lectures, for instance, will be online.

“My guess, [the Ivy League] will push everything to spring,” said one Penn coach, who noted that fellow coaches expected the same, even as they’re waiting for the official word to pass on to players.

Yes, that push could include football in the Ivies into spring. Other coaches aren’t sure whether that will end up being feasible. But the Ivy League doesn’t have to announce spring schedules now, or decide them. Last week, Yale announced it would reopen in the fall without sophomores living on campus and then will be open in the spring without freshmen living on campus. Princeton is going with freshmen and juniors living on campus in the fall and sophomores and seniors in the spring.

None of these plans rule spring sports in or out. They’re deciding all this on the fly.

“Need a vaccine quick,” noted an administrator at a non-Ivy school, offering up the obvious best remedy for sports back in full.

Will an Ivy League announcement cause a cascade of similar announcements in other leagues? A number of Division III schools, including Swarthmore College, already have announced no sports in the fall. It might be smart to view the Power 5 leagues through a different lens, given all the money that flows through big-time college football. We’re already seeing that every attempt is being made to play FBS football. Not just at Clemson, either (despite a rash of positive COVID-19 tests). Temple has brought athletes back for voluntary training, with the plan for full training to follow.

Between all the pro and college attempts to get sports up and running, everyone will have a lot more evidence in a few months about what worked and what didn’t. And the Ivy League does offer decent cover for any outfit that wants to pump the sports brakes. Canceling the Ivy basketball tournament in March turned out to be ahead of the curve, even if it was actually the NBA shutting down that caused the full stop to March Madness.

This is not to suggest money doesn’t play a part in decisions made at every level. Even at Harvard, home of the largest endowment in higher education, there was another interesting portion of Monday’s big-news announcement: “Tuition and fees will remain as announced for the 2020-21 academic year.”

So maybe we’ll need a new term for Ivy 2020 fall sports, courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic … Pay to Not Play.