HARTFORD, Conn. — The UConn football team canceled its 2020 season Wednesday, becoming the first FBS school in the country to do so, due to concerns involving the coronavirus.
UConn has seen its schedule erode in recent weeks due to Power Five teams adopting a conference-only plan for their own schedules as they look to make a football season during a pandemic work. But concerns over possibly contracting and spreading coronavirus through close contact — not just on the field, but in locker rooms, travel, hotels, and more — prompted UConn to begin looking ahead to 2021.
“After receiving guidance from state and public health officials and consulting with football student-athletes, we’ve decided that we will not compete on the gridiron this season,” athletic director David Benedict said in a statement. “The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk.”
The football team members arrived on campus in early July as they prepared for their first season as an independent program, working out in small groups with plans to begin full practices Wednesday.
While Benedict was still discussing the possibility of scheduling games in recent days, it appeared to be an uphill battle. Games against Indiana, Illinois, Ole Miss and Maine were already canceled, while games against North Carolina and Virginia appeared unlikely.
UConn could have also faced travel restrictions for some of the remaining scheduled games, as there are currently 34 states in the U.S. on a travel advisory list, requiring travelers from those states to quarantine for 14 days following trips.
“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,” Benedict continued. “Ultimately, the student-athletes would rather preserve their year of eligibility with an eye to competing under more typical circumstances during the 2021 season.”
While the Power Five conferences remain committed to playing a season largely with conference-only games, plenty of uncertainty remains. Some college teams that have begun practicing have seen cases of coronavirus spike, including Rutgers which saw 28 players test positive. Six Big Ten teams — Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana, Rutgers, and Northwestern — have temporarily halted practices due to positive tests, although that did not stop the conference from releasing its schedule Wednesday morning.
The NCAA Board of Governors met Tuesday about fall sports, but did not come to a conclusion. Numerous conference around the country have already canceled fall sports or postponed them until the spring, including the Ivy League
UConn was yet to have a player test positive. Team members said in a statement that they “are in full sport of the decision to not compete in 2020.”
“We have many health concerns and not enough is known about the potential long term effects of contracting COVID-19,” they said. “Additionally, we have not had the optimal time to train mentally &physically to be properly prepared to compete this season. We love this game and love competing. 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.”
Coach Randy Edsall told the Courant last week that any decision regarding the season would involve the players. Edsall also expressed some concern over how game days would be handled including whether a locker room would be used, how hotels and travel would be handled and whether social distancing could safely occur.
“We engaged and listened to the concerns of our football student-athletes and feel this is the best decision for their health, safety, and well-being,” Edsall said Tuesday. “Our team is united in this approach and we will use this time to further player development within the program and gear ourselves to the 2021 season.”
Prior to the announcement, Edsall tweeted “Dare to be different,” alluding to the team’s decision to become the first in FBS to cancel its season.
Connecticut has seen 4,437 deaths linked to the virus and while the state’s positivity rate remains low at about 0.7%, the rate has been much higher nationally. Health experts have also expressed concern over close contact sports, like football, and whether a “bubble” could be created for collegiate sports, similar to the NBA and NHL.
“It’s harder to do at the collegiate level,” former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Connecticut media in July. “It’s even harder to do at the high school level. So I think it’s going to be challenging. At the pro level they have unlimited resources put in place… at other levels not so much.”
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and there is no way we can make the risk zero,” added Dr. Matthew Cartter, Connecticut’s state epidemiologist. “We have to ask ourselves as a society, are sports important enough that we’re willing to accept the risk that people involved in those sports might come down with COVID-19?”
UConn finished its 2019 season 2-10 and 0-8 in the American Athletic Conference. After moving its other sports to the Big East, the Huskies were poised for a year on the independent scene, with some interesting matchups with hopes of renewing fan interest. Edsall was heading into his fourth year since returning as head coach.
The school plans to allow team members to remain enrolled in classes on scholarship and they will continue to have access to team facilities.
This marks the first time since 1943 that UConn did not play a college football game.
The athletic department plans to reach out to season ticket holders in the coming days to discuss options, including refunds.