Just one month after the Big Ten Conference announced a shift to a conference-only fall sports schedule — and one week after it released its new football schedule — the league became the first Power 5 conference to postpone its fall sports season. The Pac-12 soon followed, postponing all sports competitions for the rest of the year.
The two league’s decisions continue what has been the domino effect of scrapping college sports because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it could continue with the remaining Power 5 conferences. Maryland and the Big Ten said that the decision was made for the safety of its student-athletes, but in pushing fall sports back to the spring, an increasing list of concerns will have to be addressed.
Here are five questions for Maryland athletics after the Big Ten postponed its fall sports season:
What’s next for the football team?
Last Friday, when Maryland opened preseason camp, seems like ages ago. Coach Mike Locksley expressed confidence in the Big Ten’s medical protocols and players were steadfast in their desire to protect themselves and make the college football season work amid the pandemic. But as has been the case this year, situations are fluid and things move quickly.
The Terps’ second season under Locksley will have to wait until the spring, at the earliest, but players have remained optimistic that they can salvage the season.
“Sheesh this one hurt,” linebacker Ayinde Eley wrote on Twitter. “But can’t cry over spilt milk [sic] time to get to work and get even more ready.”
Maryland will allow players to remain on campus and continue workouts while taking classes this fall, according to a team spokesman. Players and staff who continue working out will also continue to be tested for COVID-19.
With the postponement, questions about eligibility and the possibility of players transferring to conferences who are still attempting to play in the fall have been floated. Fifth-year senior Jake Funk, who was anticipating a return to the field after his second ACL tear in as many years, was one of multiple players who joined the #WeWantToPlay campaign, detailing his extensive rehabilitation process.
Before the Big Ten’s decision, eligibility concerns played a role in players deciding to opt out of the 2020 season. The NCAA directed divisions to make a decision on eligibility for players who opt out by no later than Aug. 14.
Does football recruiting take a hit?
Locksley has already laid a solid foundation in the Terps’ 2021 recruiting class, with the 18th-ranked class nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings. The fall season often serves as a time for the team to host recruits on campus, show off facilities and woo highly regarded prospects. That likely wasn’t going to be the case with the ongoing public health crisis and the NCAA’s continued suspension of in-person recruiting, which currently runs through Aug. 31. But now Locksley and his staff won’t have the benefit of pointing to what they hoped would be an improved on-field product in their second season at Maryland.
The lack of campus visits hasn’t appeared to have hindered Locksley, who has landed verbal commitments during the extended “dead period” from two four-star recruits from Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, defensive end Demeioun Robinson and defensive tackle Marcus Bradley.
Is a spring football season actually feasible?
The postponement of the fall season gives time to further study the medical risks associated with COVID-19, but Big Ten officials are now tasked with navigating how to fit in the football season, as well as other fall sports, with spring sports.
The possibility of an early spring football season and a pushed-back basketball season — “May Madness” instead of “March Madness” — has been rumored. The idea of a spring season filled with football and basketball seems like a joyous occasion for fans and a logistical nightmare for athletic departments. But officials have made it certain that they will do anything to salvage the college football season, which annually generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the Big Ten. In 2019, the Big Ten reported more than $780 million in revenue, the most of any conference.
The Maryland men’s and women’s basketball teams have yet to announce their 2020-21 schedules, but the prevalence of the pandemic might force the teams to play a reduced schedule that starts later than normal, creating a possible scheduling conflict.
How will winter sports be affected?
Leading up to Tuesday’s announcements, the Big Ten and Pac-12 were reported to be the sole Power 5 conferences leading the way on postponing the fall sports season. The Pac-12 followed the Big Ten an hour later in postponing fall sports but went further, postponing all sports competition through the remainder of the calendar year. This decision mirrored the Ivy League Conference, which back in June announced it would revisit playing college sports in 2021.
It won’t be long until Maryland and the Big Ten have to make a decision on winter sports, which begins in mid-November. Public health experts have warned about a resurgence of COVID-19 during peak flu season. If Tuesday’s announcement is any indication of how the conference will approach winter sports, the season likely won’t start on time.
How does the postponement affect the athletic department?
While health concern for athletes was at the forefront of Big Ten officials’ minds, the financial implications of a postponed or lost season were not forgotten.
Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin’s athletic director, confirmed that layoffs would be imminent as a result of the postponement.
Maryland’s athletic department will have its share of financial concerns as it waits to see if fall sports can be played in the spring. The Baltimore Sun in 2018 and 2019 reported that football ticket sales revenue and outside donations to the team had declined, even as operating costs — coaching salaries, recruiting, scholarships and team travel — were rising.
“Football is a huge revenue driver for the intercollegiate athletics program,” Maryland athletic director Damon Evans told The Sun in 2018. “And we’ve got to make sure that we best position that program to have success, because that then filters down to everyone else.”
Athletic departments have felt the effects of the pandemic since March, with many smaller programs cutting sports to save money. Maryland’s department already found itself in a precarious situation and Tuesday’s announcement furthers that uncertainty.