Coronavirus takes its toll on all levels of collegiate football

With cancelling March Madness, postponing spring sports seasons, delaying the NBA post-season and delaying the start of the WNBA, COVID-19 has taken its toll on the sports world. 

This begs the question: Will the sports world ever be the same? 

Discussions about the safety of student-athletes during this global pandemic have been the top priority on the minds of NCAA members. 

With the start of fall sports right around the corner and preseason training having started as early as June 15, major universities are doing whatever they can to try and get their athletes on campus to start preseason training. 

“Our first priority is to keep our players safe and healthy,” said Jonathan Drach, Wilkes’ head football coach. “I do believe that we can play football and do this at the same time. Our administration, athletic department and campus community have been working hard to set protocols for the return of our student body. These steps will enable us, as well as the entire MAC, to move forward with fall sports.”

Most Division I universities are hosting optional workouts on campus for their athletes, while also adhering closely to the policies put in place. 

Some of these policies include regular temperature checks and testing, wearing facemasks wherever possible, constant sanitizing of equipment, quarantining out of practice hours and social distancing. 

In the Centre Daily, Penn State sophomore cornerback Keaton Ellis asserted, “Everything is not going to be normal when you go back. I understand that and the team understands that, and we’re ready as players to make some sacrifices because that’s what it’s going to take to move forward. 

“They (the Penn State Athletic Department) have a good plan put in place, and I believe we can get through this successfully.”

Another one of the precautions that may happen to NCAA football is reduced stadium capacity. This means that PSU’s Beaver Stadium or Wilkes’ Schmidt Stadium, alongside all of the other stadiums in the NCAA, will be reduced to approximately half capacity. 

This reduction in fans will affect ticket sale prices, but it may not affect the atmosphere of the game. 

“I do not think that reduced stadium capacity will affect our overall atmosphere,” said Drach. “At the Division III level, it is not about the size of the crowd. It is more about the spirit of competition and the love of the game.”

Talk of reducing the amount or completely cutting out non-conference games has been a hot topic in the NCAA. The discussion of cutting non-conference games has been fueled by the increasing amount of positive COVID-19 tests at the Division I football level. 

“Non-conference is beneficial to see how we stack up against other teams in different conferences,” said Billy Doron, a sophomore linebacker for Wilkes. “However, trying to contain our team to a certain region because of coronavirus and removing non-conference games from our schedule seems like a logical sacrifice we need to make.” 

Without these sacrifices, Wilkes may end up cancelling their season like Bowdoin College in Maine and the University of Massachusetts, who were two of the first Division III schools to cancel their fall sports seasons. 

The removal of non-conference games could negatively impact football, but as Doron said, sacrifices like this may need to be made to ensure the safety of the players.

Wilkes plans to begin their football season no earlier than Sept. 18, as per the MAC’s guidelines.