JMU postponed all of its fall sports, including football, because of continuing safety risks posed by COVID-19. Athletes and students alike were disappointed with the news; football is arguably the best part of the fall semester. It brings the JMU and Harrisonburg community together.
Because of how unpredictable COVID-19 has proven to be, JMU shouldn’t try to have a football season in spring 2021. JMU’s priority is keeping its community safe and healthy and rushing the return of sports would jeopardize that goal.
The absence of football will be noticeable on campus this fall. There’ll be no buzzing fans tailgating in the Godwin parking lot before a game, and there’ll be silence instead of the sound of the Marching Royal Dukes and a cheering student section so loud it’s heard from almost anywhere on campus. Combined with the rules in place to ensure social distancing is followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the fall semester will feel different from years past.
When news broke that the football season would be postponed, rumors began to circulate about the possibility of a spring season, which some people felt was a better option than no football at all. The idea that it’ll be safe for a football season in a few months, while it’s still unsafe now, is unrealistic and foolish and shouldn’t be considered.
JMU Athletics has stayed pretty quiet on the subject. When Jeff Bourne, director of athletics, announced the suspension of fall sports, he said that JMU “will be part of active exploration with national and conference peers regarding the ability to sponsor fall sport championship opportunities in the spring semester.”
A decision to proceed with a spring season likely won’t be made until the early winter because of the uncertainty of the pandemic and the hard work and planning required to make a season happen. One thing that would require significant time and planning is the schedule, which is bigger than JMU and involves collaboration with the CAA and NCAA.
Football should wait for the fall 2021 season to resume. It’ll be nearly impossible to plan a spring season for such a big series as far in advance as would be required. When the pandemic began in early March, many people believed it’d be gone before the beginning of summer.
When that wasn’t the case, many people thought for sure it’d be gone and everything would be back to normal by the time students returned to campus.
As the pandemic and the university’s response continues to be fluid situation, it seems useless to try to plan such a huge event like a football season months in advance when it’s unclear what the pandemic’s conditions will look like in the spring. As of Sept. 1, JMU had 528 positive cases, the highest number of cases of any college in Virginia. Having to consider not only JMU’s case numbers but the numbers of every school that would potentially be an opponent makes it difficult, if not impossible, to create a schedule.
The football team has the largest roster of any sort at JMU and is a reflection of the JMU community. As such, it should set an example by practicing safe social distancing — including no games or full team practices — and wearing masks or other personal protective equipment. Based on current guidelines for group gatherings, there doesn’t seem to be much hope that a sport like football will be able to safely return anytime soon.
There could also be financial implications of a spring football season. Although football is a large source of revenue for the university, it could be more costly to try to complete a season in the spring. It’s likely that weekly testing will still be necessary in the spring, which is a huge expense for the large roster.
There’s more to JMU sports than football, and if sports are back to normal by spring, those sports should be allowed to have time to shine. Lacrosse, tennis, golf, baseball and softball deserve the full support of JMU Athletics without having to worry if a spring football season will have an impact on schedules or availability of resources such as athletic trainers, tutors or other staff members.
Fall in Harrisonburg without JMU football doesn’t seem right, but unfortunately it’s the new reality. It’s not safe for the players and coaching staff, and it’s not safe for the community.
COVID-19 has caused numerous changes at JMU over the past six months, and it’ll continue to do so as students begin the fall semester. Considering how the pandemic has progressed thus far, it’s hard to imagine collegiate sports resuming this spring; if they do, JMU football should sit out a possible spring season and focus on coming back stronger and better to dominate its fall 2021 season and become CAA champions again.