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Power Five conferences on verge of canceling fall sports season

Hopes for college football — or even other fall sports — in the coming weeks declined significantly over a wild weekend.

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Penn State football players may kneel during national anthem, Big Ten says. But what if theyre not on the field for it? Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

As pictures and videos starting emerging from the start of preseason camp on Friday for the Texas Longhorns, the college football world starting tipping upside on Saturday when the MAC became the first FBS conference to cancel football this fall.

Meanwhile, Big Ten presidents met on Saturday and, according to ESPN, prepared to cancel all college sports this fall, a key decision made before a previously-scheduled meeting of Power Five commissioners on Sunday. The Big Ten also released a statement on Saturday delaying progress towards full-contact practices.

Absent clear leadership from the NCAA and with Power Five conferences left making their own decisions, Big Ten presidents reportedly wanted to know that other conferences would follow its lead by canceling sports this fall.

The wild weekend comes as Power Five athletic directors began providing anonymous quotes to media outlets speaking about the cancelation of football this fall as an inevitability.

“I think by the end of the week the fall sports will be postponed in all conferences,” an industry source told Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde.

Now it appears that an official announcement from the Big Ten could come after a meeting on Tuesday, but may not even take that long. Pac-12 leadership will also meet that day, as well as the Big 12.

Schools like Texas have had success limiting the spread of coronavirus among athletes — after the on-boarding process for fall sports, 153 tests came back in the last three weeks without any positive results.

However, Rutgers football recently shut down voluntary workouts and placed the entire team in quarantine after 28 positive tests thanks to an outbreak that stemmed from an on-campus party.

And four sports at Louisville recently paused voluntary workouts, with three men’s soccer players dismissed for organizing a party.

UTEP, the potential non-conference opponent for Texas football, postponed the start of training camp on Sunday due to four positive tests.

With debates raging over how or if to open public schools and concerns about what will happen to the relative bubbles athletes currently occupy around the country when students return to campus for the first time since the pandemic started, the concern for administrations is that current levels of success in mitigating outbreaks are unsustainable in that environment, especially while also adding competition.

So while the NBA has had success with its bubble in Orlando, as has MLS, for the most part, the better potential comparison for college sports is to the MLB, where the St. Louis Cardinals only managed five games before an outbreak that has kept the team off the field for more than 10 days now. And there’s still no restart date for the Cardinals.

And putting college athletes into a further bubble isn’t going to happen, for obvious reasons.

Nationally, new daily COVID-19 cases have declined slightly since the peak in mid-July, at which point 45 percent of all counties in the United States were experiencing uncontrolled spread of the virus, but the nationwide failure to stop the virus from spreading have made fall sports increasingly unlikely over the last several weeks.

“The science told us what we need to do,” a MAC source told Sports Illustrated about the conference’s decision. “Health and safety was our primary concern, and not other factors.”

Decision-makers can also no longer ignore the risks to athletes. A recent viral Facebook post by Deborah Rucker, the mother of Indiana freshman offensive lineman Brady Freeney, addressed the possible heart issues that her son is experiencing as a result of COVID-19.

“After 14 days of hell battling the horrible virus, his school did additional testing on all those that were positive,” Rucker wrote. “My son even received extra tests because he was one of the worst cases. Now we are dealing with possible heart issues! He is still experiencing additional symptoms and his blood work is indicating additional problems.

“Bottom line, even if your son’s schools do everything right to protect them, they CAN’T PROTECT THEM!!”

According the Sports Illustrated, concerns raised by doctors about the prevalence of myocardial injury from COVID-19 even in asymptomatic young people have gotten the attention of Power Five commissioners like the Big Ten’s Kevin Warren and the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby.

“That’s what has been the final straw,” a team doctor told SI. “The commissioners are finally figuring it all out. The commissioners are going, ‘Oh my gosh!’ And the doctors are like, ‘Yeah...’”

Now, with fall college sports hanging in the balance, Power Five conferences are on the verge of coming to the same conclusion as Rucker, one already arrived at by smaller conferences like the MAC and others.