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Ivy League calls off all fall sports, including football, due to coronavirus

The academically elite conference was the first to halt basketball tournaments back in March as the pandemic first surged in the U.S.
Image: Yale v Harvard football
Alan Lamar #5 of the Yale Bulldogs scores a touchdown during a game against the Harvard Crimson at Fenway Park in Boston on Nov. 17, 2018.Adam Glanzman / Getty Images file

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic prompted Ivy League schools to cancel their upcoming fall sports seasons Wednesday, suggesting that other major intercollegiate bodies could follow suit.

Student-athletes who normally play football, field hockey, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's soccer and women's volleyball will not take the field or court for their schools this autumn, the league announced.

It's the first NCAA Division I conference to call off any sports for the 2020-21 academic year because of the pandemic.

"Ivy League institutions are implementing campuswide policies including restrictions on student and staff travel, requirements for social distancing, limits on group gatherings and regulations for visitors to campus," the group said in a statement.

"As athletics is expected to operate consistent with campus policies, it will not be possible for Ivy League teams to participate in intercollegiate athletics competition prior to the end of the fall semester."

Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth and Cornell Universities, plus the University of Pennsylvania, were supposed to kick off their football slates with non-conference games Sept. 19 — but officials said they couldn't risk the safety of players, coaches, staff and fans with the deadly virus still plaguing America.

"With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk," according to a joint statement by the league's eight presidents.

Yale Athletics Director Victoria Chun, whose Bulldogs won a share of the Ivy League football title last year, said going forward with intercollegiate sports would have put players in an untenable spot.

"While difficult to imagine fall at Yale without sports, it is unimaginable to ask our student-athletes to choose between their health and athletic competition."

The Ivy League's move also causes a ripple across the NCAA as various teams lose a scheduled opponent for non-conference games.

For example, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point now has a hole in its football slate, where Princeton was supposed to play on Oct. 10. Army said it'll try to fill that vacancy and play a regular 12-game schedule.

A decision on when to reschedule the sports — including "whether fall sport competition would be feasible in the spring" — will come at a later date, the statement said.

Wednesday's action comes after Harvard announced earlier this week it'd only be bringing a fraction of students back to campus this fall with all learning online.

It remains to be seen if the Ivy League's fall sports postponement will be the first domino to tumble across major college sports.

The Ivy League, back on March 10 as the pandemic first took hold of North America, was the first conference to cancel its post-season basketball tournaments. That triggered a wave of other leagues to stop their own hoops competitions.

And within 48 hours, the NCAA pulled the plug on its wildly popular postseason tournament, known as March Madness.

While Ivy League football competes in the NCAA's second tier, the Football Championship Subdivision, it still represents a major symbolic role in the 151-year-old sport.

College football has long marked its birth as Nov. 6, 1869 when teams from Rutgers and Princeton faced off in a soccer-style game in New Brunswick, New Jersey.