Will college football be back in the fall? NCAA president weighs in

NCAA president Mark Emmert discussed the chances of playing college football amid the pandemic and the guidelines for player safety that have been put in place.
/ Source: TODAY

It's a question on the minds of millions of fans as more sports leagues return to action during the pandemic: Will there be major college football in the fall?

NCAA president Mark Emmert says it's still up in the air.

"I think it's gonna be very dependent upon what we do as Americans," Emmert told Craig Melvin on TODAY Thursday. "The trend lines right now of course are very challenging. In some parts of the country they're awful. We need to all do better at the way we're handling this. Everything, whether it's school openings or campus openings or sports, is gonna be dependent upon that."

Emmert's comments came a day after the University of Connecticut became the first Football Bowl Subdivision program in the country to cancel its season, which followed news that Division II and Division III schools were cancelling their fall championships.

The NCAA president also weighed in on whether having a season was worth the risk to athletes, coaches and support staff in the FBS, which is the highest level of college football and an enormous revenue source to a host of schools and the NCAA.

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"It certainly isn't if schools can't maintain the appropriate safety and protocol policies in their place and do everything in their power," he said. "And that's why we wanted to make sure that the students have complete flexibility on opting out and deciding not to play.

"They need to have the assurance that this pandemic is not gonna be held against them in any fashion," he said.

On Wednesday, the NCAA Board of Governors announced mandatory safety protocol that must be followed by schools and conferences participating in the season. The NCAA also will establish a hotline in which parents and athletes can notify the organization if schools are not following safety guidelines.

The guidelines come as groups of football players in major conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-12 have banded together to release a list of demands concerning their safety.

Under the NCAA guidelines, athletes will be given the choice to opt out of playing due to concerns about COVID-19, and the NCAA has mandated that the athletes' scholarship "must be honored by the college or university" if he or she opts out of competing.

Schools and conferences also must take care of any COVID-related medical bills incurred by an athlete.

A crucial date is coming up; Aug. 21 is the deadline for when schools and conferences must decide if they are opting in or out of the season.

During the season, every athlete will be tested at least once a week, no more than 72 hours before any competition.

"The availability of testing of course is a big problem as we all know, and we're working very hard with all the testing companies to try and accelerate those processes,'' Emmert said.

The lag in testing results, which has become a source of frustration in states around the country, could also factor in whether a player is allowed to compete.

"If they can't get them back within a 72-hour period, then they simply can't compete," Emmert said. "That's unfortunate, but that's the reality. It's unsafe to proceed in any other circumstance."