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NCAA cancels fall championships, but major college football continues

Eric Blum
The Examiner
Missouri volleyball players run onto the floor before a Southeastern Conference match against Kentucky in September 2019 at the Hearnes Center.

The NCAA will not hold any of the Division I fall sports championships it has jurisdiction over this year due to more than half its membership deciding not to compete amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision affects Missouri in volleyball, soccer and cross country.

NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the news Thursday afternoon, leaving FBS football as the only sport that could still have a national champion this fall season. That’s because the highest tier of college football has its champion decided through the independent College Football Playoff.

The Southeastern Conference has yet to cancel fall sports, and it remains unclear whether Missouri will still participate in conference or nonconference competition in any of the sports impacted by Thursday’s announcement.

The SEC previously delayed the start of all fall sports to Sept. 1.

“There’s not enough schools participating,” Emmert said in an online video about calling off the national championships. “The (NCAA) Board of Governors said, ‘Look, if you don’t have half of the schools playing the sport, you can’t have a legitimate championship.’ So we can’t in any Division I NCAA championship sport now, which is everything other than FBS football that goes on in the fall. So, sadly, tragically, that’s going to be the case this fall. Full stop.

“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t and can’t turn toward winter and spring and say, ‘How can we create a legitimate championship for those students?’ There are ways to do this. I am completely confident we can figure this out.”

Divisions II and III canceled their fall championships last week. Division I — which is comprised of 357 schools — held on, but as conference after conference canceled their fall seasons, the tipping point came.

Two Power Five leagues, the Big Ten Conference and Pac-12 Conference, have postponed fall athletics to the spring, as have 10 of the 11 conferences that play FCS football. The Mountain West Conference and Mid-American Conference also postponed football to the spring from the Group of Five Conference level.

The College Football Playoff isn’t controlled by the NCAA and makes its own independent decisions with its 10 member conferences. Six FBS football conferences are still slated to play this fall, including the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 Conference and SEC.

The NCAA membership, through the D-I Council, which represents all 32 conferences, has to approve moving affected fall sports to the spring.

Emmert said he would like to avoid canceling winter and spring championships for a second straight year if at all possible.

To buck that trend while living in the age of COVID-19, Emmert mentioned modifying championship models, shrinking the number of qualified teams, using predetermined sites “instead of running kids around the country” and moving toward bubble-type models.

Controlled bubbles have been utilized by the NHL and NBA with no interruption to scheduled play. Major League Baseball has had to postpone games due to outbreaks on the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins.

“It is doable,” Emmert said. “And we want to do that. We want to make it work for these students.”