The University of Connecticut canceled its football season on Wednesday, becoming the first member of the Football Bowl Subdivision to abandon its schedule in full because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Connecticut’s season was already in flux because of the decisions of leading conferences, including the Big Ten and Southeastern, to play exclusively within their leagues. By the time Connecticut, which is not a member of any conference for football, announced its decision on Wednesday morning, a third of its planned games had been canceled.
But in a statement, David Benedict, the athletic director at Connecticut, cited the pandemic’s perils, not scheduling complications, as the reason to drop plans for the season.
“The safety challenges created by Covid-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk,” he said. “The necessary measures needed to mitigate risk of football student-athletes contracting the coronavirus are not conducive to delivering an optimal experience for our team.”
In a statement released through the university, football players said they supported the decision, in part because “not enough is known about the potential long term effects of contracting” the virus.
“We love this game and love competing,” the players said in the joint statement. “We came to campus in the beginning of July knowing there would be challenges presented by the pandemic but it is apparent to us now that these challenges are impossible to overcome.”
The decision from Connecticut, where the football team lost more than $13 million last year, came as the National Collegiate Athletic Association prepared to offer more details on Wednesday about its plans for championships in 22 fall sports. (The College Football Playoff, the competition that is the most lucrative and prominent of events involving fall sports, will not be affected by the decision.)
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The wave of news on Wednesday — the Big Ten announced that it intends to begin its football season on Labor Day weekend — comes at a moment when playing college football is increasingly problematic as the landscape within the sport mirrors what is happening nationally, with hot spots emerging and few signs that the pandemic is under control. Six Big Ten schools have halted workouts, including Rutgers, where an outbreak has now infected 28 players and three staff members, according to NJ.com.
Cases like this are what prompted a group of Pac-12 players — at least one from every school in the league except the University of Colorado — to threaten Sunday to opt out of the season unless more health and safety measures were put in place, along with other demands. The group will meet this week with conference leaders.
Many schools without so much revenue at stake — football is responsible for tens of millions of dollars in income at many universities — have already postponed their football season.
Last month, the Ivy League postponed football, and all other sports played that begin in the fall semester, until at least January. So, too, did most historically Black colleges and universities. Several other Division I conferences that do not play football, including the Big West, the Western Athletic Conference, Atlantic-10 and America East, also announced they were postponing fall sports.
Conferences have been busy in recent weeks reconfiguring schedules and practice plans to provide flexibility for outbreaks that many executives concede seem inevitable once athletes begin to suit up.
All five major conferences, including the Southeastern, Pac-12, Big 12, Atlantic Coast and Big Ten, have reduced their schedules to 10 games.