While Division I conferences such as the Big 10 and Pac-12 reversed their decisions to postpone the 2020 college football season, Division III conferences remain committed to a spring reopening. The Northwest Conference (NWC), which includes Lewis & Clark, has postponed games until January 2021, when it plans to hold a four-to-five game football season.
Pressure from coaches and student-athletes, as well as concerns over revenue, prompted the decision to renew the 2020 season. As a primary source of funding for college athletics, football makes more money for FBS schools (Division I Football Bowl Subdivision) than every other college sport combined. While this is not the case for Division III schools like LC, sponsoring football can still mean an increase in spending revenue as high as 40% for smaller institutions.
Another concern for Division I colleges was recruitment. With NCAA COVID-19 guidelines and travel restrictions still stringent, coaches have had limited opportunities to scout and meet with high school student-athletes. This makes the college regular season more valuable, as it serves as a platform for coaches to promote their brand of football and allows them to achieve notoriety for their program — both important aspects of recruitment.
Since the majority of Division I conferences planned to continue college football as early as Aug. 17, conferences that initially decided to postpone faced pushback from universities that did not want to fall behind in recruitment. As a Division III school, LC did not have that issue because other Division III schedules were similarly postponed and Division III three student-athletes tend to commit later (making a spring reopening more feasible).
In order to stop the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, Division I programs are subject to NCAA guidelines along with specific conference measures. These limit crowd sizes, ensure regular testing and embed social distancing practices prior to games.
Players and coaches also have to wear masks on the sidelines and quarantine for up to two weeks if they test positive for COVID-19. So far, each of the conferences has managed to avoid major setbacks, though individual teams have faced problems with maintaining their schedules. The University of Notre Dame, for instance, had to postpone a game against Wake Forest University in late September due to several positive COVID-19 tests. It remains to be seen whether COVID-19 outbreaks will prematurely end the Division I college football season.
For their part, the NWC has cited COVID-19 concerns as the fundamental reason behind postponing games and has urged a return to athletic competition that is safe.
“The NWC has been working diligently over the past several months to plan for the safe reopening of campuses this fall while prioritizing the health and well-being of students, faculty, staff and campus communities,” their website said.
As a part of the NWC’s decision, practices and non-conference activities are permitted insofar as they adhere to state and local directives. The Presidents’ Council for the NWC has left open the possibility of additional updates, which may appear in the coming months based on the changing status of COVID-19 in relation to the NCAA’s guidelines.