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Colleges Breaking Up with Spring Break - Will it Impact Tournaments?

25 Sep, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Schools are scrapping spring break for 2021. And while students might be disappointed, the move is even more impactful for event owners.

After all, from youth to college sports, events have long depended upon the “school’s out” period (generally between mid-March and mid-April) to host tournaments and championships, and in some cases, to kick-start summer events. But as the school year opens, many event owners, already scrambling to reschedule events lost to COVID, are finding yet one more monkey wrench in the works.

It’s hard to argue with the reasoning, however, according to The Points Guy. A number of universities saw serious outbreaks among their student and employee population after students traveled over Spring Break 2020, and transmitted COVID across campus upon their return.

As a result, the University of Michigan, several schools in Iowa, a number of Big Ten schools including Purdue and Ohio State University, and the University of Tennessee are among multiple institutions that have preemptively eliminated the popular collegiate respite.

Baylor University, which is also dropping spring break, says is will begin the spring semester on Jan. 18 to give students two weeks to quarantine after any family gatherings they may have attended during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, And according to University Business, there is an ulterior motive other schools may not have thought of; the schedule also allows for a potential pre-semester COVID-19 testing program for students, faculty and staff. (And, University Business adds, for the same safety reasons, many colleges and universities canceled fall breaks and will not have students return after the Thanksgiving break).

In addition, the cancellation of spring break (whether nationwide or only in specific schools) stands to have a domino effect on destinations. An article in Free Enterprise notes that John Laurie, a grad student at the University of New Orleans, went so far as to write his dissertation on the phenomenon. In “Spring Break: The Economic, Socio-Political, and Public Governance Impacts of College Students on Spring Break Host Locations,” Laurie notes that the economic impact of the influx of students cannot be downplayed, with young people pumping some $1 billion each year into Texas and Florida’s economies alone.

But in some ways, having students stay onsite, rather than allowing them (even if not outright encouraging them) to disperse into the wider community creates its own “bubble” environment that has been used for basketball and hockey.

“Keeping students, faculty and staff safely on campus, preventing COVID-19 outbreaks like we saw across the country last spring and progressing toward the successful completion of the Spring semester is our highest priority,” Baylor says on its website.

ABC News notes that in place of a spring break, some schools, including Carnegie Mellon and Purdue, are adding several "break days" or "reading days" throughout the spring semester to give students and faculty a respite.

The compressed school year may help students finish up the academic year early, providing even further safeguards. The ABC News report also noted that the spring calendar revisions follow a similar playbook for the fall, where many schools have condensed the semester, including canceling planned fall breaks, in order to shorten the amount of time students would spend on campus during the pandemic.

In several cases, the days allotted for spring break have been tacked on to any winter recess breaks. As medical experts anticipate a "twindemic" of flu and COVID-19, delaying the start of the spring semester may pose another advantage. In a Sept. 10 letter to students, Carnegie Mellon Provost Jim Garrett said the school decided to delay the spring semester "to reduce the number of weeks we are in session during flu season," since "the COVID-19 pandemic will likely continue through the winter months."

But that still leaves those tournaments that run between mid-March and mid-April, well, out in the cold. NCAA spring championships, for example, run from March through the end of June – with more championships thrown into the mix now that Division I’s fall sports championships (including volleyball, soccer, field hockey, water polo and cross country will be held in the spring. (March Madness, that venerable institution, already starts in mid-March and runs through early April).

But college championships are only part of the equation. Youth events – baseball, softball, lacrosse, swimming, spring soccer, beach volleyball and others,  make up a huge portion of the travel economy during that period. GSL Tournaments, for example has 8U-14U baseball tournaments in 2021 from January through June, including a heavy concentration from March through the end of April. In Richmond, Virginia, the Jefferson Cup has soccer tournaments throughout March. And MyHockeyTournaments has a list of ice hockey events nationwide stretching from fall to spring. The search engine, High School Tournaments, also shows an enormous array of tournaments coast to coast in all sports.

If schools nationwide elect to keep students in school during the traditional spring break time in the interest of keeping athletes well, there are a few options (apart from cancelling tournaments outright, which is never preferable):

  • Keeping tournaments scheduled as they currently are and not changing anything (after all, many tournaments are held over weekends, allowing students and their families to get away without as much out-of-classroom time, plus the growing trend of “schoolcations” can help with lessons while kids are out of town)
  • Keeping tournament dates as they are and moving the tournament to states/jurisdictions where the rules against gatherings are less strict
  • Moving tournaments to those other states/jurisdictions but changing dates (to avoid conflicts with events already scheduled in those areas)
  • Changing tournament dates to summer and hosting events at that time

While there is no perfect scenario, tournament directors should recall that large gatherings have previously been linked to everything from mumps to the flu – and everything in between, including measles.

Reflecting on these issues, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said he supported UW-Madison's decision to proactively cancel spring break now, noting the risks posed by students traveling to and from campus. He also brought up the potential timeline of a vaccine, which experts are anticipating the broader public likely would see pop up at pharmacies and in doctor's offices closer to mid-year.

"In order for our country to vaccinate 300 million people, it's not going to happen overnight," Evers said. UW-Madison's decision was a "wise step on their part."

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