Ivy League cancels all winter sports in 2020-21 due to COVID-19

The wait for Ivy League women’s basketball to return gets much longer

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More often than not, 2020 has been a challenging year. But March 9, July 8, and November 12 have all been heartbreaking days for Ivy League women’s basketball players.

On March 9, the conference became the first to cancel its conference tournament due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. The NCAA Tournament soon followed, ending the 2019-20 season and seniors’ college careers.

On July 8, the conference canceled fall sports and announced that winter sports would not play until at least January 1, 2021, effectively eliminating nonconference games in women’s basketball.

On November 12—250 days since Ivy League women’s basketball teams last played a game—the Ivy League Council of Presidents unanimously decided to cancel the 2020-21 winter sports season. The council also voted to delay spring sports until at least March 2021 and not to play fall sports in the spring.

The league’s press release indicated that the decision was made based on “extended consideration of options and strategies to mitigate the transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” rising rates of COVID-19 infections locally and nationally, and the continued need to minimize the number of people on campus. Ivy League executive director Robin Harris told ESPN that the league’s coaches and athletic directors had suggested ways to mitigate the risks of playing basketball during a pandemic, including by not staying overnight on road trips, but the decision-makers still considered playing to be too risky.

Harris added that the Ivy League never considered creating a “bubble” environment similar to what the WNBA created this summer, which allowed a full season to be played without anyone contracting the virus on site.

“Regrettably, the current trends regarding transmission of the COVID-19 virus and subsequent protocols that must be put in place are impeding our strong desire to return to intercollegiate athletics competition in a safe manner,” the Council of Presidents said in the league’s release.

“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. 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.”

As it was on March 9, the Ivy League is again out in front of its peers. It is the first Division I conference to cancel its season, and its eight teams join Bethune-Cookman and Cal State Northridge as teams that will not play this season.

“We understand the Ivy presidents’ decision to cancel winter sports, but we’re sad that we can’t play under these circumstances,” Princeton head coach Carla Berube said in a statement released on Twitter. “It is unfortunate that we will not have the chance to see [seniors] Carlie [Littlefield], McKenna [Haire] and Sydney [Boyer] compete for Princeton again. It was an honor to coach them and I couldn’t be more proud of how they and their teammates handled themselves during these trying times.”

North Carolina head coach Courtney Banghart, who played at Dartmouth and was the head coach at Princeton for 12 seasons, also weighed in on Twitter. “As a long-time Ivy Leaguer, I hurt for all involved,” she wrote. “The talented student-athletes who put so much into their sport, the coaches who so love their teams, and the decision-makers whose hearts are so heavy because of all of this. Covid, you’re the worst. [broken heart emoji]”

Although the NCAA previously granted all players an additional season of eligibility due to the unpredictability of the pandemic, seniors’ Ivy League careers are expected to be over because of more restrictive conference eligibility rules. Ivy League student-athletes are only eligible in their first four years of undergraduate enrollment, so they must withdraw from school if they want to preserve a year of eligibility within the conference.

Alternatively, the current Ivy League seniors can also extend their careers by graduating this year and transferring to a non-Ivy League school as graduate students. As of November 10, four seniors had entered their names in the transfer portal: Littlefield, Brown’s McKenna Dale, Cornell’s Kate Sramac, and Harvard’s Jadyn Bush. Bush is the only one who has committed to a school, choosing to play for the University of California, Berkeley, in 2021-22.

For the rest of the 2020-21 academic year, Ivy League players who are enrolled in school and on campus will be able to practice as their schools allow. All eight schools are following the league’s plan to return to sports, which has four phases ranging from no in-person activities (Phase 0) to in-person practices and meetings (Phase 3). As of late October, only Cornell, Dartmouth, and Harvard had reached Phase 2, which allows for small-group practices.

Meanwhile, players who are not on campus will find their own places to get better and work toward next season—however many days away it may be.