COVID-19 and the future of college sports 

Will all sports return? The G5 wants the NCAA to allow schools to cut sports such as volleyball, fencing, soccer, baseball and tennis to allocate an even larger share of the remaining money for sports such as football and basketball
By: , , and | April 27, 2020
(Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash)(Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash)
Left to right: Kathy DeBoer is the executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association; Greg Earhart is the executive director of the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America; Rob Kehoe is the director of College Programs for United Soccer Coaches; and Mike Moyer is the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

From top: Kathy DeBoer, American Volleyball Coaches Association; Greg Earhart, College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America; Rob Kehoe, College Programs for United Soccer Coaches; and Mike Moyer, National Wrestling Coaches Association.

In the wake of Covid-19 we’ve been robbed of the smell of hot dogs and the crack of the bat on opening day. But what if some sports never came back at all?

That is exactly what could happen to dozens of college sports, as thousands of student-athletes and their families face down a possible future without their teams.


Read: 86 free higher ed resources during coronavirus pandemic


Cutting sports?

Why? Recently the Group of Five (G5) Commissioners—a coalition of athletic departments representing half of the conferences in the NCAA Division I—proposed a bleak solution to the pandemic-induced budget shortfalls looming over college sports: Allow a waiver to conferences and schools that would enable them to slash the current number of programs (16) that must be offered to retain Division I membership status.

In the simplest terms, this means the G5 wants the NCAA to allow schools to cut sports such as volleyball, fencing, soccer, baseball and tennis to allocate an even larger share of the remaining money for sports such as football and basketball.

Such a move would deal a devastating blow to thousands of student-athletes, their families, coaches and fans, and would amount to a permanent “solution” to a temporary problem, with lasting and shattering effects to those who love college sports.

Cutting sports is not the right answer and should be taken off the table in this time of unprecedented challenges. Even in budgeting terms, it makes no sense.

Why? Last year, NCAA Division I institutions provided educational opportunities for 141,483 students in Olympic sports. These student-athletes generated $3.6 billion in tuition and fees to their universities, an amount nearly equal to the cost of providing these opportunities. And while these sports don’t always get the ESPN airtime that football or basketball does, they continue to contribute to college life in tangible ways. Cutting them would do little to fix the problems that loom ahead.

Cutting sports is not the right answer and should be taken off the table in this time of unprecedented challenges. Even in budgeting terms, it makes no sense.

Committing to student-athletes

As representatives of intercollegiate Olympic sport coaches who will be impacted by this potential action, we are imploring the NCAA to remember that our first and most important commitment isn’t to sponsors or even to fans, it’s to our students. We stand ready to partner with the NCAA to explore every possible avenue for maintaining our investment in them.

We believe in the NCAA and share its mission, and we understand the revenue-generating sports help achieve that mission. We know that in this uncertain time we must reckon with financial reality. But we also believe that with creativity and effort, we can identify the structural changes needed to preserve opportunities for students, support our collective educational mission, and build a stronger NCAA as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.


Read: Will all college campuses reopen in the fall?


We just hope the NCAA give us a chance and the time to do so.

We owe it to our sports, teams and student-athletes. We owe it to our universities. And we owe it to all those who love sports.

Student-athletes of all sports are young men and women whose graduation rates and donation rates are higher than their peers. Their contributions are key to building communities of life-long fans who, in turn, support our endowments and booster clubs. And they help build our college community as a whole. If we eliminate them, we’d be killing the pipeline that could produce our next World Cup soccer star. We’d be benching baseball players who might turn into little league coaches or even major leaguers. And we’d be sidelining volleyballers who might have stood tall on gold medal pedestals.


Read: SUNY to host online esports tournament for all of its schools


There are nearly 200,000 Division I student-athletes, and as we know, most of them go pro in something other than sports. In fact, many of those currently working in the health care industry are doing so because of the opportunities provided by intercollegiate athletics.

Our college sports teach problem-solving and team-building, sharpening the mind and body and creating more capable citizens and human beings. In times like these, we need that more than ever. America’s students have already had so much taken from them. Now is not the time for the NCAA to cut off yet another critical institution that makes university life so special.


Kathy DeBoer is the executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association; Greg Earhart is the executive director of the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America; Rob Kehoe is the director of College Programs for United Soccer Coaches; and Mike Moyer is the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association.


UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.