Commissioner says no Big East sports until students are on campus

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Friday, May 8, 2020

Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said Friday that the league won't have sports in the fall if students aren't allowed back on campus.

During a conference call with reporters, Ackerman stressed that the geographic footprint of the league -- the 11 schools cover 10 states and the District of Columbia -- increases the likelihood that schools in the Big East will have "staggered entry dates" and a "patchwork outcome." But she also said that sports won't be played if campuses remain closed into the fall semester.

"If our campuses aren't open, we will not have athletes coming back or sports events or activities resuming," she said.

"Our presidents, I think, are of the mind that if it's not safe for students to resume in-person activities on campus, that student-athletes would not be returning."

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told ESPN Thursday that his league would not have sports in the fall if students weren't allowed on campus.

"If the new normal becomes everybody is going to college online, then our football players, volleyball players, cross country athletes, soccer players are students, and if they're not enrolled in school, they can't be student-athletes," Bowlsby said. "They'll need to be enrolled in school.

"If school is closed, you're not going to have any competition," Bowlsby continued. "If school is open online, it will likely be institution by institution that will decide what they're going to do. If it's a combination of in-person and online, that's what we'll have available to us. There are places that have declared they're going to be open and students are going to be on campus. They may have social distancing procedures that are different than they've had before."

Several Power 5 schools have said in recent days that they expect to open in the fall, including Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, Tennessee and Auburn.

While the Big East doesn't have football as a conference (four members do play football at the FBS or FCS levels), the league does have six fall sports: Men's and women's soccer, men's and women's cross country, field hockey and women's volleyball. Ackerman said the league has been working on alternative scheduling models for fall sports, like a regional model, to provide more flexibility if delays or cancellations occur.

Another potential question the league has explored is whether it can run a conference season if a partial group of member schools don't open in the fall. The NCAA minimum for conference play is six schools.

"What happens if some of our schools are back and some aren't? Would the schools that are back be allowed to resume practices?" Ackerman said. "What would we do if some of our schools don't come back at all? Could you run a conference season, for example, with fewer than 11 schools? In our case, that's certainly a possibility ... That's an issue we haven't confronted yet."

Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said Thursday night that he thinks a decision needs to be made about the college football season in late June or early July. When asked if she's thought about a similar timeline for the men's and women's basketball seasons, Ackerman said she doesn't think a decision needs to be made about basketball until September 1 or Labor Day, although any delay in the college football season would "have a domino effect" on basketball and other winter sports, especially on the television side.

For now, though, it's "business as usual" for winter sports.

"We have not yet looked into the winter sports," Ackerman said. "Basketball of course is top of mind for everybody, especially a conference like ours. The focus of the NCAA right now has been mostly on the fall sports. Just as an organization, I don't believe we're far enough along as we need to be, in terms of thinking out contingencies around the basketball season. We are proceeding right now as if it's business as usual."

ESPN's Heather Dinich contributed to this report.

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