While the Big Ten formally revealed its 2020 football schedule Wednesday morning, the University of Connecticut announced that its football team will not play this season (if one is played).
As reported by ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, UConn becomes the first FBS program to suspend its team due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to school officials, no student-athletes in Storrs have tested positive for the novel coronavirus during the past month. Football players will stay enrolled in virtual and in-person classes, while also still having access to academic services.
One major factor in UConn’s decision was surely that the football program currently doesn’t belong to a conference and doesn’t benefit from the safety net that schools in the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC, for example, enjoy. The Huskies left the American Athletic Conference last season (after a 2-10 campaign) and intended to play the 2020 season as an independent.
And with Power Five conferences canceling their non-conference football schedules, UConn lost several games on its 2020 schedule. Home games against Indiana and Maine weren’t going to be played, along with road matchups at Illinois and Ole Miss. The Huskies also had games scheduled at Virginia and North Carolina, which appear unlikely to be played.
“The safety challenges created by Covid-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk,” said UConn athletic director David Benedict in an official statement (via the New York Times). “The necessary measures needed to mitigate risk of football student-athletes contracting the coronavirus are not conducive to delivering an optimal experience for our team.”
In an interview last week with The Athletic’s Chris Vannini, UConn football coach Randy Edsall hinted at such a decision while speaking out on behalf of his players who were putting themselves at risk.
“‘I’m not playing it, athletic directors aren’t playing it, presidents aren’t playing it, conference commissioners aren’t playing it. It’s the student-athletes,’ Edsall said. ‘It’s important that I hear what our student-athletes want to do and what they think is best for the experience with them, their health, their welfare and safety. That’s one thing that we’re going to make sure that we hear and look at.’
UConn’s decision to suspend its football program also comes amid PAC-12 players considering opting out of the upcoming season if schools don’t implement safety protocols to protect them. Several college football programs — including Clemson, North Carolina, Rutgers, and Ohio State — have seen significant outbreaks among their players during workouts. The Ivy League also announced that it would not play football this fall.