The Coronavirus Outbreak
Sports and the Virus
Updated Aug. 24, 2020
Here’s what’s happening as the world of sports slowly comes back to life:
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Athletes, he noted, were tested routinely, and he said he believed players would be more likely to follow public health recommendations than typical students.
“They understand that if they don’t comply, they won’t be able to compete,” he said.
Still, some athletes publicly suggested they had concerns about the university’s plan.
“So what’s the difference in student athletes and regular students? Are we immune to this virus because we play a sport?” Garrison Brooks, a forward on the men’s basketball team, asked on Twitter late Monday.
“The almighty dollar,” Brooks, who plans to play this season, added in a subsequent tweet less than a minute later.
Like other members of top conferences, North Carolina has a litany of worries over canceling sports. Many players want to compete this fall, and some believe they are safer within the shepherded confines of a college athletic program than they would be in their hometowns. There are anxieties over lost experiences, compromised seasons and, for some of the most talented athletes, shakier postcollege prospects.
There are also financial concerns. North Carolina, which planned an athletic budget of about $110 million before the onset of the pandemic, has warned that it could lose up to $52 million in the months ahead, especially if its celebrated men’s basketball program misses all or part of the coming season. (The N.C.A.A. said this week that it expected to announce tentative plans for basketball next month, though it said that would be “just the first milestone for many important decisions pertaining to the regular season and the N.C.A.A. basketball championships.”)
Cunningham said, though, that he had told the university’s chancellor and provost months ago to call off sports for the year if they believed that athletics would interfere too greatly with academics. He was rebuffed, he said, but emphasized that U.N.C. officials could change their plans if the views of their medical advisers became more dire.
“If their medical opinion changes in the next day, week or month, then obviously what we do will change, as well,” he said.
Whether or not its plans endure over the coming weeks, observers said U.N.C.’s decision could someday prove a cudgel in the broader fight over players and their relationships with the universities that give them little more than scholarships to play. That debate has reached the corridors of Congress and will be bickered over until at least January, when the N.C.A.A. is expected to rewrite its rules to allow students to profit, at least a little bit, from their fame.
Even though U.N.C. had planned a semester that would be far different than usual, even without this week’s changes, some advocates for change in college sports said Tuesday that they were stunned that a top university would so openly champion athletics as much of the rest of the campus sputtered.
“This is why I say higher education has lost its mind,” said Donna A. Lopiano, the director of women’s athletics at Texas for nearly two decades and now the president of the Drake Group, a nonprofit that urges changes in college sports.
“It’s incongruent, and it doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Many universities were publicly unbothered, suggesting that one school’s health troubles would carry only so much weight with far-flung leagues. The A.C.C. this week referred to a statement it issued last week, when it said it would “continue to follow our process that has been in place for months” and that it was “prepared to adjust” as warranted.
And Cunningham, who sent a group text to athletic directors on Monday, asserted that in private, officials at other A.C.C. schools were not expressing severe misgivings about the situation in Chapel Hill.
When one athletic director called on Tuesday, he said, the subject did not even surface.
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