On Wednesday evening, the Big East became the 14th NCAA Division 1 conference to postpone all fall sports competitions. They join the America East, Atlantic 10, Big South, Big Ten, Big West, Ivy League, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, Patriot League, and SWAC in determining that athletic competitions can not be held due to the still ongoing coronavirus pandemic that is gripping the United States.
Quotes from Commissioner Val Ackerman:
“This very difficult decision came after an exhaustive review by our Presidents and Athletics Directors and followed consideration of NCAA guidance, COVID-19 case counts and trend lines nationally and in BIG EAST communities, and the many unknowns surrounding testing availability, turnaround time and travel restrictions in our 11 locales,” said BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman. ”We take pride in the high-level competition and experiences we provide to our fall sports student-athletes, and we share their deep disappointment that this will not be a normal year. Our plans for men’s and women’s basketball and other sports are unaffected at this time.”
I think it’s safe to say that it was only a matter of time before the Big East pulled the plug here.
The Big East announced that they would be going with a regional division format for fall sports back in early June. That was followed by an announcement in mid-July that the league was cancelling all non-conference competitions for those fall sports. At no point in the intervening five weeks did we get a full schedule for fall sports. It’s been almost another month since that happened, and there still has not been a schedule announced.
At some point, when you’re looking at starting up games in late September and you still don’t have a schedule made public by the time school actually starts, it seems very obvious that there just aren’t going to be any games.
In addition to all of that, on August 5, the NCAA leadership gave leagues and schools until August 21st to decide whether or not they were going to participate in fall sports. If 50% of teams in a particular sport elected to not compete, that would trigger the cancellation of the NCAA national championship tournament. Earlier in the day on Wednesday, the Big South became the 13th conference to opt out of fall competition. That pushed the percentage to 43% in men’s soccer and just barely short of 40% in both women’s soccer and women’s volleyball. It was very much looking like it was only a matter of time before enough other conferences forced the Big East out of competition anyway, so when presented with an option of “providing health and safety leadership on a national level” and “had to be dragged kicking and screaming,” it would appear that the Big East brain trust smartly elected to go with the former.
In case you were thinking about being upset about this, I’d like to point out that Georgetown has already effectively cancelled all athletic activities on campus through October 9th as a result of travel restrictions put in place by Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser. The Hoyas can’t gather to practice much less host games or travel on road trips, and that October 9th timeframe puts an awful big damper on the Big East operating any kind of fall sports schedule, regional divisions or not.
The @BIGEAST has announced postponement of fall sports, with alternative spring 2021 options to be assessed. @BillScholl on decision for @MarquetteU programs @MUTFXC @MarquetteVB @marquettesoccer and @MarquetteWSOC RELEASE: https://t.co/y8hQ5BcKIC pic.twitter.com/ka435dVkh8— Marquette Athletics (@muathletics) August 12, 2020
For Marquette, it’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of what the Golden Eagles were looking at in their fall sports. Women’s soccer was looking at a Year Zero under new head coach Frank Pelaez, which has now been sent down the line a bit. Men’s soccer would have been going through a major upheaval as the top three scorers on the squad in 2019 were all seniors, and that doesn’t even include Luka Prpa, one of the best point gatherers in program history. Cross country was going into their first normal (ha ha) season with Sean Birren running (ha ha ha) the show after he took over as interim head coach in 2019. Women’s volleyball was aiming at their 10th consecutive (and 10th ever) NCAA tournament berth in 2020, but they were going to have to restructure the offense following the departure of All-American and all-time kills leader Allie Barber.
Marquette men's soccer head coach Louis Bennett (@Loobe21) issues a statement on the cancellation of fall sports in the BIG EAST.#WeAreMarquette | #MarquetteSoccer pic.twitter.com/rVxdlEiP5X— Marquette Soccer (@marquettesoccer) August 12, 2020
Marquette head cross country coach Sean Birren (@birren03) makes a statement on the cancellation of fall sports in the BIG EAST.#WeAreMarquette | #MUTFXC pic.twitter.com/TwOFPAKQso— Marquette TF/XC (@MUTFXC) August 12, 2020
Head coach Frank Pelaez (@pelaez_frank) on the cancellation of the 2020 fall campaign by the BIG EAST.#WeAreMarquette pic.twitter.com/2wISlpSPCc— MARQUETTE Soccer (@MarquetteWSOC) August 12, 2020
#muvb head coach Ryan Theis with comments on the postponement of fall sports in the BIG EAST. pic.twitter.com/5V5HCLTP3G— Marquette Volleyball (@MarquetteVB) August 12, 2020
The Big East’s removal from fall competitions advances those national participation percentages to 48.1% in men’s soccer, 42.6% in women’s soccer, and 42.7% in women’s volleyball. This clearly puts the national championships on the edge of cancellation, and now that we’re this close, I presume that one or two more leagues will be making the move across the line to Cancel Town. I think it will be incredibly interesting to see what happens to the hold out FBS football leagues when they suddenly realize that they’re still trying to play football while their non-football fall sports are now shut down for the year.
One final note, which is particularly relevant for the Big East, a league that prides itself on basketball excellence: The Big East women’s volleyball tournament is traditionally held over Thanksgiving weekend. That tournament is now cancelled. You’ll recall, of course, that the basketball season for both men’s and women’s hoops begins in early November, a few weeks before Thanksgiving. I think it’s very easy to say at this point that the Big East is very close to cutting off non-conference play for basketball, as they’re already willing to prevent volleyball from taking place after the basketball season would have started. Marquette has already lost one game from their men’s basketball schedule with the Pac-12 ending competitions through the end of 2020, so it’s not just crazy speculation at this point.