NCAA announces 'strict' conditions for college football season

NCAA President Mark Emmert not optimistic, says 'we need to all do better'

NCAA President Mark Emmert is not optimistic about a start to college football.

In an interview with NBC News’ “TODAY Show” Thursday, Emmert expressed concerns about the increases in Covid-19 cases nationwide. “The trend lines right now of course are very challenging. In some parts of the country, they’re awful. We need to all do better at the way we’re handling this.”

The NCAA Board of Governors announced Wednesday it is applying “strict,” mandatory conditions for preseason, season and postseason fall sports, including football.

Schools must test every student-athlete for Covid-19 at least once a week and no more than 72 hours before a competition.

If a team “can’t get [tests] back within a 72-hour period, then they simply can’t compete,” Emmert said plainly. “That’s the reality. It’s unsafe to proceed in any other circumstance.”

Athletes and “essential” personnel must also be separated from “non-essential” personnel, and physical distancing and mask-wearing are required when not in competition.

Some of the new requirements appear to address demands shared this week from the #WeAreUnited Pac-12 and #BigTenUnited student-athlete activist groups.

The NCAA is compelling schools to cover Covid-19-related medical expenses for athletes to prevent out-of-pocket expenses for athletes and their families. Schools also cannot require athletes to waive their legal rights regarding Covid-19 as a condition for participating in fall sports.

A new dedicated email and phone number will allow the reporting of alleged failures, similar to the “tip line” the NBA set up for its “bubble” at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Notably, Emmert appeared to hint that athletes who decide to opt out of the upcoming season may take a “redshirt” year to lengthen their athletic eligibility and maintain their scholarships, which the NCAA is also obliging schools to do.

“We want to make sure that student-athletes can in fact make choices about opting out, or should their season be canceled, they know what to expect,” Emmert told NBC News. “That’s why we wanted to make sure that students have complete flexibility about opting out or deciding not to play. They need to have the assurance that this pandemic is not going to be held against them in any fashion… And we need to make sure that fairness exists on all of our campuses.”

The NCAA set an Aug. 21 deadline for schools and conferences to decide if they plan to opt out of the fall preseason, season and postseason. If half or more of eligible teams in a particular sport in a division cancel their fall season, the NCAA will cancel the fall championship of that sport in that division.

Last week, the Pac-12 Conference distributed a 10-game, conference-only schedule for football to begin Sept. 26. The league was quick to caveat that games may be rescheduled. Already, four Pac-12 teams may postpone their early-season football games to as late as mid-December because of Covid-19.

But the Pac-12 Conference’s flexible football schedule is not enough for some leaders.

“I think we need to put a hold on all events and organizations that could contribute to the spread of [Covid-19]. Regrettably, that includes college football,” Dr. Richard Pan, a Democratic California state senator from Sacramento, told Write for California in an exclusive interview.

Dr. Pan continued: “Until we have the Covid-19 pandemic under control across the country, the football season needs to be postponed to protect the student-athletes, the staff and the entire football community. Public health and student safety must be the top priorities in any decision to begin the college football season.”