If COVID-19 has been the big monkeywrench in 2020, the NCAA is ready with the WD-40. The organization recently announced that it would work toward hosting scaled-back fall championships in the spring for Division I.
And while that’s great news for the sports business industry, it also leaves a lot of unanswered questions. What, exactly, is a scaled-back championship? And what is the definition of spring for championships? (After all, spring comes earlier In some cities).
Most importantly, though, there’s this: will host cities, who had previously been awarded those fall championships for 2020, be given the priority in decision-making when it comes time to figure out who will host in the spring? What if they have already made a commitment to hosting another event at that time, using those same facilities? If they have to turn that event away, will they automatically be granted the championship in a future cycle, or will their inability to host not sit well with the decision-makers of NCAA?
The NCAA doesn’t appear to have those answers yet.
“The vote was to allow the national office to explore options for how to host DI fall championships in the spring,” noted Megan Durham, NCAA’s Associate Director of Communications. “The details relating to that – locations, championship field size, etc. – haven’t been determined yet.”
As those details become available, NCAA expects to share them with its members and with the general public.
While we wait for final word, however, here’s what’s at stake. Fall championship sports at the NCAA Division I level include men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s field hockey, men’s football, men’s water polo and women’s (indoor) volleyball.
All the way back in the spring of 2017, NCAA awarded championships; fall sports for 2020 are detailed below:
- Women’s Field Hockey Championship, Old Dominion University (LR Hill Sports Complex), Norfolk, Virginia – originally scheduled for November 2020
- Men’s Soccer College Cup, UC Santa Barbara (Meredith Field at Harder Stadium), Santa Barbara, California – originally scheduled for December 2020
- Women’s Soccer College Cup, Campbell and Town of Cary, North Carolina (WakeMed Soccer Park) – originally scheduled for December 2020
- Women’s Volleyball Championship, Omaha, Nebraska and Metropolitan Entertainment (CHI Health Center Omaha) – originally scheduled for December 2020
- Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Cross Country Championships: Oklahoma State (OSU Cross Country Course), Stillwater, Oklahoma – originally scheduled for November 2020 (Multiple regionals were also awarded; information on these can be found here).
- Men’s Water Polo Championships (listed separately from the above four sports): Stanford University (Avery Aquatic Center) – originally scheduled for December 2020
- The College Football Playoffs National Championship, also announced separately from the above events, is currently scheduled for the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, on January 11, 2021. Note: NCAA has noted that the Division I Competition Oversight Committee and Division I Football Oversight Committee will continue to work on more detailed models for fall championships in the impacted sports, with the priority of preserving opportunities for winter and spring student-athletes who did not have the chance to participate in NCAA championships in 2019-20.
But if the NCAA needs a precedent for making the unprecedented decisions, one already exists. In July, the NAIA opted to move most of its fall championships to the spring. According to the NAIA’s website, the changes are as follows:
- The NAIA Football National Championship will remain at Eddie G. Robinson Stadium at Grambling State University in Louisiana and will take place on a Monday for the first time, May 10, 2021.
- The NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship has been relocated from Orange Beach, Alabama, just seven miles away to Foley, Alabama, at the Ralph Schumacher Soccer Complex as the Orange Beach Sportsplex undergoes construction. The re-scheduled national championship will take place from April 27 – May 3, hosted by Foley Sports Tourism. The Orange Beach Convention and Visitor's Bureau was instrumental in finding a suitable replacement as it continued its longstanding partnership with the NAIA during the rescheduling process. Women's soccer will return to Orange Beach once again in the fall of 2021.
- The NAIA Men's Soccer National Championship will also make a move and will switch coasts to the east. Due to scheduling conflicts with the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California, the men's national championship is in final discussions with Columbia County, Georgia, to host at Blanchard Woods Park May 4 – 10, 2021. The county is expected to approve a memorandum of understanding on the terms of this move by September 1.
- Women's Volleyball will be staying put in Sioux City, Iowa for the 13th consecutive year. The Tyson Events Center will again play host as teams will battle it out for a national title from April 27 through May 1.
- In both men's and women's cross-country, a new date was established in April as both coaches and student-athletes will navigate the difficulty of having the sports of track & field and cross-country at the same time. The re-scheduled cross-country national championship will take place on April 9, 2021 and will remain in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at Seminole Valley Park, hosted by Cedar Rapids Tourism.
The NCAA's DII and DIII championships for fall have already been cancelled so if the organization's DI fall championships can be presented successfully in the spring, they will follow the lead of NAIA in representing a strong comeback for college sports as a whole – and both organizations will help send the message that sports hosting cities are open for business and ready to bid on future events.
According to NCAA, “Board members cautioned that fall championships should be played in the spring only if they can be conducted safely and in accordance with federal, state and local health guidelines. The board acknowledged that its action pertained to fall championships only and that the final decisions on bracket sizes and composition will be approved by the board.”For destinations that had been counting on the income from hosting an NCAA event, the ability to move forward with a spring championship could come as a welcome respite.
In addition to changes to bracket sizes and composition, the concept of scaled-back events could mean having restrictions on numbers of spectators (dependent, of course, on local ordinances). It could also mean that events would be held without the festivals and expos that often accompany them.
All that, however, remains to be seen. At the moment, the potential for cities to host is a cause for celebration – cautious celebration but celebration, nonetheless.
The board also noted that its decision regarding fall championships would help Division I college athletes as they plan for their futures.
“We want to provide opportunities for student-athletes whenever possible,” said acting board chair Denise Trauth, president of Texas State. “We understand it will be complicated and different, and we’re not certain how it will look. But we believe it’s important to try to give students that championship experience.”
Another emerging trend is that of promising high school athletes, whose sports seasons have been cancelled or postponed, and who finish their coursework before graduation in order to begin college early and take advantage of spring practices. NCAA is watching this trend as well, and working on policies surrounding it.
Other decisions made by NCAA include the following:
Additionally, all fall sport student-athletes will receive both an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it, as the Council suggested, through a blanket waiver.
The board also adopted the Council-recommended protections for college athletes:
- Schools are prohibited from requiring student-athletes to waive legal rights regarding COVID-19 as a condition of athletics participation.
- Schools are prohibited from canceling or reducing athletics scholarships if a college athlete in any sport opts not to participate due to COVID-19.
- Student-athletes who do not enroll full time during the 2020 fall term have flexibility in the progress-toward-degree requirements that must be met for eligibility in future terms.
- The financial aid of fall sport senior student-athletes who take advantage of the additional year of eligibility and extended clock will not count against team limits in 2021-22.
- Schools are required to:
- Review current insurance coverage for all student-athletes who are competing this fall.
- Inform student-athletes about the risk classification of their sport as outlined in the Resocialization of Collegiate Sport document.
- Inform student-athletes how the mandates in the Resocialization of Collegiate Sport document are being met at their campus.
The protections are effective immediately.
SDM will continue to follow this developing issue.