NCAA implements new rules and safeguards for season of COVID

The NCAA Board of Governors met on Aug. 4 to discuss the fate of the 2020 season, and on Aug. 5 released a list of requirements for schools to compete this fall.

The announcement comes as athletes around the country raise concerns about returning to practices and games amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Players from both the Pac-12 and Big 10 conferences have released lists of demands for returning to play, with some of these rules from the NCAA addressing those demands.

“Our decisions place emphasis where it belongs — on the health and safety of college athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “Student athletes should never feel pressured into playing their sport if they do not believe it is safe to do so. These policies ensure they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about playing this fall.”

One key issue for athletes is the ability to opt-out of the season due to health risks while still maintaining their scholarship. BYU Football head coach Kalani Sitake said on Aug. 4 that none of his players have opted out yet.

“All student-athletes must be allowed to opt-out of participation due to concerns about contracting COVID-19,” the Board of Governors said in a statement. “If a college athlete chooses to opt-out, that individual’s athletics scholarship commitment must be honored by the college or university.”

BYU Football head coach Kalani Sitake directs the team on Aug. 4, the first day of fall camp. Sitake said no players have opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 risks. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

The announcement also said schools are not allowed to require student-athletes to sign a legal waiver regarding the risk of catching COVID-19 while participating in athletics. Several universities, including Ohio State, attempted to do this with their football players.

Not only are schools prohibited from waiving liability, they actually have to cover COVID-19 related medical expenses for student-athletes, according to the NCAA statement, in an effort to prevent out-of-pocket expenses for college athletes and their families.

Lastly, on a more grim note, the NCAA announced that if 50% or more of eligible teams in a particular sport cancel their fall season, there will be no fall NCAA championship in that sport.

BYU competes in four NCAA fall sports: football, track and field, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball. Every sport but football, which plays independent of a conference, is currently delayed until Sept. 24, in accordance with the West Coast Conference. BYU Football announced on Aug. 6 its first game of the season will be played on Sept. 7, Labor Day, against the Naval Academy, after the original home opener against Utah was canceled.

BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe and Sitake have both expressed confidence in BYU’s COVID-19 response and remain optimistic fall sports can take place. A complete cancellation of the fall season likely wouldn’t happen for BYU unless the WCC decides to do so or all of BYU Football’s opponents opt-out.

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