There will be no in-person classes in Fall 2020 at any California State Universities due to continuing COVID-19 concerns. That means a total of twenty-three universities will only have online instruction unless a viable vaccine is introduced before the start of the Fall semester.
How could twenty-three schools in a state the size of California agree that it is not safe for students to attend classes, but allow those same students to engage in contact sports? It does not seem possible that a reasonable justification can be made for those schools to participate in intercollegiate athletics while preventing students from sitting in a classroom.
Thus, the precedent has been set for a cancellation of college sports for the remainder of the year. In early May, NCAA president Mark Emmert even hinted that he could not envision college sports taking place if students are not allowed on their respective campuses.
“All of the Division I commissioners and every president that I’ve talked to is in clear agreement: If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus,” Emmert said. “That doesn’t mean it has to be up and running in the full normal model, but you’ve got to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students. So if a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports. It’s really that simple.”
The twenty-three universities in the California State University system include Fresno State, San Jose State, and San Diego State. It is the largest four-year public university system in the United States.
Marc Isenberg, a Vice President and Director of Financial Education at Morgan Stanley’s Global Sports & Entertainment division, believes it is very unlikely that a university will close its doors to in-person classes yet allow athletes to engage in contact sports.
“Schools may try to move forward, but probably would require player to indemnify, which obviously should be a nonstarter,” Isenberg said.
Yet, it is possible that certain schools, such as those in the California State University system, be excluded from participating in college sports in Fall 2020 while other schools that do not feel the same coronavirus concerns plan for full participation of their college athletes. Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey is on the record as stating that there is room for different conferences to make different decisions, which means the college sports landscape could be composed of a smaller number of schools than what has been seen in prior years.
Darren Heitner is the founder of Heitner Legal. He is the author of How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know, published by the American Bar Association, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @DarrenHeitner.