By Avery Myers
New York City, New York
At the highest level of Division 1 athletics, there have always been discrepancies between the monetary worth of each sports team to the collegiate institution. NCAA football has always been televised, along with NCAA basketball, which produces millions of dollars for institutions around the country during the “March Madness” championship tournament every spring. It is much more likely that one will have access to watching games that are sponsored by corporate athletic brands and held in large stadiums, for these games pump money into the colleges themselves. Very talented athletes of “lesser” sports at the Division 1 level have always been treated as secondary to these main sports teams, whether an institution has tried to hide it or not. However, the impact of COVID-19 on collegiate athletics has only further illuminated the main focus of institutions in hosting sporting events: to funnel money into their other programs.
The primary example of this discrepancy is the recent return of Pac-12 and Big Ten football to NCAA play. In the beginning of the NCAA fall season, the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences came forward with statements regarding the postponement of all fall sports until possibly the winter or spring seasons. On August 11, statements by both of these conferences were released with their explanations. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said, “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.” The announcements made it very clear to the public that these conferences would not allow competitive play solely due to the health risks of being in contact with others during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the Big Ten and Pac-12 both reconsidered their decision in September, as they allowed football games to commence later in the fall. Their recommencement of fall sports during the COVID-19 pandemic created excitement and relief amongst football fans across the nation. The Pac-12 and Big Ten are two of the most popular and successful conferences in Division 1 sports, so their decision to compete made the 2020 season feel normal again to its fans during the pandemic. However, while their decision received positive feedback from sports analysts and fans across the nation, the conference directors’ lack of effort to give their other teams the same treatment is glaring. Warren said that it was urgent for the athletic directors to “button down football” first and that they would reconvene shortly to discuss other sports. This decision was made in late September, yet no plans have been released regarding the recommencement of other fall sports. The athletic funds that collegiate football raises for Big Ten schools were never mentioned in the decision process, as it was very clear to all athletes that football comes first for these athletic departments.
Warren’s statements about football’s return completely contradicted his August assertion that the delay of sports was due to COVID-19 risks. Football in comparison to sports such as soccer, field hockey, track and field, and volleyball has much more physical contact, which increases exposure to the virus. Furthermore, the Big Ten and Pac-12’s return to NCAA football in the middle of the season creates myriad problems regarding statistics and weekly national rankings. While the return of two Power Five conferences to NCAA football seems exciting, it could tarnish the integrity of NCAA programs as a whole. While athletic programs should strive to give invaluable opportunities to students, these conferences are demonstrating their financially driven intentions and selective efforts in helping student athletes achieve their goals in the midst of a pandemic.