NCAA Division I Council eyes spring return for non-football sports

A month after canceling fall championships in non-football sports in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA Division I Council on Wednesday outlined the structure and timing of potential replacement spring seasons and championships for those displaced sports.

The council approved recommendations made earlier this month by the competition oversight committee that include cutting postseason fields by 25% and incorporating any programs in the handful of conferences that continue to compete this fall.

Those recommendations will now go to the Division I board of directors for approval later this month.

The affected Division I sports are men's and women's cross country, field hockey, men's and women's soccer, women's volleyball and men's water polo.

"While no one wanted to see fall championships impacted by the pandemic, the competition oversight committee put a thoughtful proposal in front of the council which was resoundingly endorsed," said M. Grace Calhoun, council chairperson and University of Pennsylvania athletic director. "We believe we have an appropriate and considerate plan to move fall championship events to the spring, and I look forward to presenting this plan to the board of directors next week."

Individual schools and conferences would also have to choose to participate, even with approval from the board of directors.

Three sports would be allowed to begin play as early as January: water polo on Jan. 16, volleyball on Jan. 22 and cross country on Jan. 3.

Men's and women's soccer would follow as early as Feb. 3 and field hockey on Feb. 12.

Most regular seasons would end in the second half of April, with the exception of cross country and water polo, which would conclude their regular seasons in March.

Among notable championships, the women's volleyball final four would take place April 23-25, while the Men's College Cup and Women's College Cup would each take place May 13-17.

All championships will see fields reduced by 25%, with the reductions coming from at-large selections and spots still reserved for conference champions. For example, women's soccer and volleyball would each have 48-team brackets, with 17 at-large teams in soccer and 16 at-large teams in volleyball.

The board of governors directed that all championships be held at predetermined sites and that early-round sites be consolidated "to support health and safety and operational management" of the events.

The council also adopted emergency legislation altering the rules for each sport's traditional championship (fall) and non-championship (spring) segments. Schools will be allowed to play championship-segment games in both fall and spring. In practice, this means women's soccer teams in a conference such as the ACC, which is currently holding a fall season, would be allowed to spread the 20 regular-season games they are allowed across fall and spring.

Schools are required to give athletes a break before the start of the spring season segment.

The NCAA additionally said the competition oversight committee will continue to study cross country, after concerns were raised over conducting cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field in the spring term.