The chancellor of the California State University system announced Tuesday that the campuses of its 23 schools will remain largely closed this fall, a move that could remove the possibility of those schools participating in college football next season.
Chancellor Timothy White said in a statement that virtual instruction will replace in-person classes for the fall semester.
Campus Closures Impact Three Mountain West Schools
While schools will offer limited exceptions for in-person learning, such as in necessary laboratory settings, clinical classes for nursing students, and facilities for the arts, these opportunities will be considered on a case-by-case basis and “will be based on compelling educational and research needs.”
“This approach to virtual planning is necessary for many reasons,” White said in his statement. “First and foremost is the health, safety and welfare of our students, faculty and staff, and the evolving data surrounding the progression of COVID-19 – current and as forecast throughout the 2020-21 academic year.”
Five California State University campuses offer Division 1 college football programs. Three of those schools play at the FBS level, and all are in the Mountain West Conference: Fresno State, San Diego State, and San Jose State.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, Fresno State President Joseph Castro, San Diego State President Adela de la Torre, and San Jose State President Mary Papazian issued a joint statement in response to the announcement.
“Certainly, all conversations are led by academics, as well as public health and safety,” the joint statement read. “Within that framework, more determinations are necessary. All three institutions will work closely with the Mountain West. No decisions on athletics have been made.”
If those three schools can’t compete in the fall, their lack of participation won’t have major implications on the national championship race. To say all three are long shots is an understatement: FanDuel Sportsbook gives the best odds to Fresno State at +100000, with San Diego State at +200000, and San Jose State at +250000 to win the national title.
NCAA Offers Flexibility for College Football Season
It’s unlikely that these will be the last schools to find themselves in this situation. While Cal (+30000) and UCLA (+25000) are part of the separate University of California system, and are not part of this decision, it’s certainly conceivable that other state university systems could also shut down their campuses in the fall.
While it’s possible to imagine ways for a school to allow college football games to go forward without students on campus, in practice, that seems highly unlikely.
“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,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in an interview shared on the NCAA’s social media channels last Friday. “This 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.”
In all likelihood, schools will come to differing conclusions about when and how they can participate in intercollegiate sports. That could mean college football and other sports might have to go forward without all schools taking part. Emmert says the NCAA has anticipated this, and is willing to let schools be flexible in how they return to play.
𝐍𝐂𝐀𝐀 𝐒𝐨𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥 𝐒𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 | 𝐄𝐩 𝟕
𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘍𝘶𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘊𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘨𝘦 𝘚𝘱𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘴
— NCAA (@NCAA) May 8, 2020
“Normally, there’s an agreed-upon start date for every sport, every season,” Emmert told ESPN. “But under these circumstances, now that’s all been derailed by the pandemic. It won’t be the conferences that can do that either. It will be the local and state health officials that say whether or not you can open and play football with fans.”