Commissioners tell VP Pence college sports won't be back until students return to campus
April 15, 2020
Vice President Mike Pence was a good listener Wednesday on a conference call with the College Football Playoff Management Committee to discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on college athletics. That was one conclusion drawn by those on the call because the message to Pence from that group was clear: There will be no college football until students are allowed on campus.
"Our players are students. If we're not in college, we're not having contests," said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who was on the call.
"Our message was, we need to get universities and colleges back open, that we were education-based programs, and we weren't going to have sports until we had something closer to normal college going on," he added.
The White House had sought the call with the leaders of major college sports' top conferences earlier in the week. President Donald Trump has been supportive of sports restarting soon.
The CFP Management includes commissioners from the Power Five and Group of Five along with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. Wednesday marked 33 days since the NCAA Tournament had been canceled.
"[Pence] expressed his gratitude for what we did with the basketball tournaments," Bowlsby said. "He acknowledged it was difficult and expensive to cancel conference tournaments and not play the NCAA Tournament."
The call was described as congenial and productive. At one point, Pence asked the commissioners what it would take "to get things back to normal."
"I think he appreciated hearing our thoughts," Bowlsby said.
Part of the call had to do with differentiating college sports from the professional leagues. Pro athletes can collectively bargain their working conditions in their return to play. College athletes cannot. In fact, the liability of bringing college sports back too soon and exposing athletes to infection could be significant.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained Tuesday how sports could return this summer under massive restrictions in empty venues.
"That's the worst version of this: getting started and [having to] stop," Swarbrick said. "This is all about, [it] sort of begins and ends with bringing our students back to campus," Swarbrick said. "It's just hard to figure out how you can say, 'We believe the campus isn't safe for our student body, and oh, we're going to bring one group of students back.'"
It was acknowledged that we're barely one month into this pandemic affecting sports across the country. In another month, things may change.
"I felt positive about the call," MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. "To me, it was a recognition of the role of higher education and the role of intercollegiate athletics in the fabric of our society."
The commissioners will be the main entity that will decide when college sports return -- with input from the NCAA and medical personnel, of course.
College football does not have a central authority. Most power is held by the Power Five conferences: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.