Ivy League cancels winter sports season, delays spring play

The Ivy League canceled winter sports for the 2020-21 season, the conference announced Thursday.

The conference also postponed spring sports until at least the end of February and won't conduct competition for fall sports during the spring semester.

"This is definitely not a decision we want to make, but I know it's the right decision for the Ivy League," Robin Harris, the conference's executive director, told ESPN.

These decisions were made unanimously by the Ivy League Council of Presidents.

"The Council will continue to closely monitor and evaluate the public health climate and consider changes to policies when warranted in order to return to more normal campus operations, including potential spring intercollegiate athletics competition," the Ivy League said in a release.

The Ivy League was the first conference to cancel its men's and women's conference tournaments in March and was also the first conference to announce it wouldn't hold fall sports because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, it became the first league to cancel winter sports -- including men's and women's basketball. Other sports affected include wrestling, indoor track and field, swimming and fencing.

"We are heartbroken to be here again," Harris said. "It's based on the current trends of the virus and rates and the impact that has on our campus policies that are going to continue to restrict travel, group gathering sizes, visitors to campus. Athletics is important to all of our schools, to our presidents. All aspects of campuses are being asked to make sacrifices and change the way they operate, and unfortunately that has extended into athletics as well."

Harris said the league's coaches and athletic directors came up with alternative options on how to conduct a season, including eliminating overnight stays and changing the way they handle meals on the road. While those options would have mitigated the risk to a degree, it wasn't enough.

A bubble for the conference was never a legitimate consideration, Harris said.

With spring sports delayed until at least the start of March, there was some thought of having winter sports play a shortened season to determine a champion and send a team to the NCAA tournament.

"We did look at that as an option, and ultimately the presidents didn't want to hold out false hope," Harris said. "We couldn't compete until at least the end of February. To say to winter sports, maybe we could start in early March when that seems like such a slim possibility, they didn't want to hold out false hope."

In its statement, the Ivy League Council of Presidents said the trend for transmission of COVID-19 overwhelmed the desire for athletic competition.

"Student-athletes, their families and coaches are again being asked to make enormous sacrifices for the good of public health -- and we do not make this decision lightly," the council said. "While these decisions come with great disappointment and frustration, our commitment to the safety and lasting health of our student-athletes and wider communities must remain our highest priority."

While the Ivy League was the first domino to fall in March, it is unlikely that every conference in the country will follow the league's decision this time around.

"This decision is about what's right and responsible for the Ivy League based on current trends and our campus policies, and our presidents prioritizing health and safety of student-athletes, coaches and the greater campus communities," Harris said. "Others are going to have to make the best decisions for their schools and conferences. It's hard to predict the future. The trends are not good."

Harris said the Ivy League has not had discussions with the NCAA on whether it will still receive an NCAA tournament share or any money from the NCAA tournament. The league has not changed its policies on allowing graduate students to play sports, despite the NCAA granting every winter athlete a free year this season.