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Ivy League cancels sports for remainder of 2020 due to coronavirus pandemic

The Ivy League has decided to cancel all sports through the end of 2020. There will be no football, soccer or any other fall sport activity until 2021, and if winter sports, such as men’s and women’s basketball, are played at all, they will start their seasons after Jan. 1.

The long-awaited, and somewhat stunning Ivy news came officially Wednesday at 6 p.m. as COVID-19 cases continued to rise in many parts of the country, though the pandemic has been better controlled in the Northeast, where its schools are located. However, Ivy schools draw students from all over the world, which complicates getting students, including athletes, on campus for normal, in-person classes during the pandemic. Even in states such as Connecticut, where the curve has been flattened, there is hesitation to expand indoor and outdoor activities, the next phase of reopening on hold.

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“With the safety and well-being of students as their highest priority,” the league’s statement read, “Ivy League institutions are implementing campus-wide policies including restrictions on student and staff travel, requirements for social distancing, limits on group gatherings, and regulations for visitors to campus. As athletics is expected to operate consistent with campus policies, it will not be possible for Ivy League teams to participate in intercollegiate athletics competition prior to the end of the fall semester.”

The league did not rule out playing fall sports in the spring of 2021, but will make that determination at a later date. Details of a phased-in approach to training and practicing will be determined later this month.

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In a joint statement, the Ivy League’s presidents said, “With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk. ... We are entrusted to create and maintain an educational environment that is guided by health and safety considerations. There can be no greater responsibility — and that is the basis for this difficult decision.”

The news comes as schools in the Power 5 conferences return their football players for practices in preparation for the 2020 season, which begins in late August. The Ivy League was the first conference to cancel its conference basketball tournament before all of college sports shut down in mid-March due to the outbreak.

The schools in the conference, including Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Brown, have football rivalries dating back to the 19th century, interrupted during the 20th century only by World Wars I and II. The Yale-Harvard rivalry, first played in 1875, known as “The Game,” is one of the most storied in all college sports, including an epic overtime game in the Yale Bowl last November.

The Ivy League schools, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Penn and Columbia, do not participate in postseason events, namely the FCS playoffs, so there is no impact there.

“While it’s difficult to imagine Fall at Yale without sports,” Yale AD Victoria M. Chun said, “it’s unimaginable to ask our student-athletes to choose between their health and athletic competition. Yale Athletics will work tirelessly to support the needs of our student-athletes in light of this decision. We look forward to the day when we can resume competition on behalf of our Bulldog Nation.”

Over the last decade, Yale has been particularly successful in men’s basketball, reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and 2019, and in men’s ice hockey, winning the national championship in 2013. Sports Illustrated reported Tuesday that the NCAA is considering asking schools to begin basketball seasons two weeks early, in late October, to create more schedule flexibility in case of a mid-season halt. The Ivy League, usually represented by only its champion in the NCAA Tournament, moved in the opposite direction.

Last March, the Ivy League made the decision to cancel it’s basketball championships, and spring sports, before the rest of the country followed suit last. The league’s schools, though they have long, rich traditions in football, do not depend on revenue from it in the way other colleges, particularly Power Five conference schools, do, so the announcement Wednesday isn’t necessarily a precursor to what the rest of the NCAA will do. Their decision, and the information behind it, will certainly be studied by other conferences.

Among Ivy League schools, Harvard plans to have all its fall classes on line, with some students allowed on campus. Yale plans to offer only a few in-person classes with social distancing, with on-campus population reduced and staggered, some classes able to live on campus in the fall semester, some in the spring. Presumably all athletes would be able to live on campus during the spring. Offering a wide range of athletic programs — Yale offers 35 varsity sports — plays a part in Ivies attracting international students, though they do not offer athletic scholarships, just various forms of financial aid.

Fall sports athletes will not lose a year of eligibility, according to the league, but will have to “work with their institutions in accordance with campus policy” if they wish to pursue a fifth year.

Dom Amore can be reached at damore@courant.com

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