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Big East cancels fall season with college sports reeling

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St. John’s and Seton Hall backed the Big East’s decision to cancel its fall sports season Wednesday, a move that won’t affect basketball but further highlights the grim reality college sports face in the coronavirus era.

Men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, volleyball and field hockey won’t take place in 2020, though the conference said it will “assess alternative options to stage fall sports contests during the spring of 2021.”

The Big East, which does not participate in Division I football, made its announcement a day after the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceled their fall seasons — including football, the money-maker often responsible for covering the costs of smaller fall and spring sports.

Big East men’s and women’s basketball, both considered winter sports, were “unaffected” by Wednesday’s decision and are still scheduled to begin in November.

“St. John’s fully supports the actions taken by the Big East Presidents this afternoon and recognizes the decision to cancel competition this fall was difficult and challenging,” St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg said in a statement. “As a member of the Big East COVID-19 Task Force, I know that our conference leadership’s daily focus has been on the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff as we continue to navigate through this global pandemic.”

The conference in a separate statement said a task force made up of administrators, doctors, athletic trainers, student-athletes and national experts in global pandemics and infectious diseases helped reach the decision.

It “was not made lightly,” said the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, the chair of the Big East board of directors and Villanova president.

The conference said fall sports student-athletes will be allowed to participate in team activities such as team practices and workouts, in accordance with coronavirus guidelines.

The NCAA’s refusal to set uniform coronavirus guidelines, however, has created a fraught situation for student-athletes and universities, who have to decide whether holding sports for amateur athletes during a still-raging pandemic is worth it. The college sports world was initially turned upside down in March, when postseason men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — including March Madness, which reportedly generated nearly $1 billion in 2019 — was canceled, followed by spring sports. Universities also have faced pressure from some players, coaches and even President Trump imploring them to march on with athletics, particularly football, this fall. The Big 12 doubled down Wednesday on playing Division I football this fall, with a revised schedule.

“This is a difficult day for Seton Hall Athletics,” athletic director Bryan Felt said in a statement following the cancellation of his conference’s fall sports. “While we cherish the opportunity for our student-athletes to compete for championships and represent our great University, the health, safety and welfare of our community remains our number one priority, and at this time, the guidance, data and facts we have received has led to this postponement.”

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