Once again, the Ivy League has sent a loud and clear COVID-19 message to the collegiate sports community. After initially delaying the start of the winter sports schedule until January 2021, the Ivy League Counsel of Presidents has voted unanimously to cancel all intercollegiate sports until at least March, becoming the first Division I conference to officially suspend its winter sports schedule in the midst of escalating coronavirus pandemic spikes and increasing hospitalizations in the Northeast and around the country.

In addition, to the postponement of all sports until at least March 1st,  the conference also announced that it will no longer hold in abeyance its previous delay in deciding to allow fall sports to play in the spring by formally canceling fall sports competition during the 2021 spring semester.

The Ivy League announcement regarding winter sports follows its ongoing precautionary pattern of having been the first conference in the country to act in response to the pandemic by canceling its men’s and women’s conference basketball tournaments last March and its fall sports schedule in early July.

Despite broad criticism for overreacting from multiple professional leagues and other college conferences for its preemptive decision in March, within days the Ivy League and its Executive Director Harris were ultimately lauded for their decision to exercise extreme caution to protect their student-athletes. Approximately two days after the Ivy League’s decision, all professional sports leagues were shut down following the COVID-19 diagnosis of NBA player Rudy Gobert and the NCAA was forced to cancel the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments.

In response to the announcement of the cancellation of the league’s winter sports schedule,

Executive Director Harris commented, “We are heartbroken to be here again. This is definitely not a decision we want to make, but I know it’s the right decision for the Ivy League.”

Harris acknowledged that Ivy League coaches and athletic directors offered various options for conducting a season, including the elimination of overnight road trips and modification to travel meals. Unfortunately, the proposed alternatives were not deemed to be sufficient to diminish to potential risk of COVID-19 exposure to the athletes.

The Ivy Council of Presidents concluded that the risk of transmission of the virus far exceeded the goal of for the Ivy League athletes to compete. In a prepared statement, the Ivy Council of Presidents acknowledged the sacrifice of the League’s student-athletes, their families and coaches for public health purposes and stated, “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.”

The league also announced that training opportunities and practices for enrolled student-athletes will be permitted, provided they are structured in accordance with each institution’s procedures and applicable state and local regulations. This approach is consistent with the plan implemented by the Ivy League for all sports in the fall 2020 term.

While this announcement may not be followed by similar announcements from other basketball dominant conferences, it will be interesting to see if other conferences once again follow the Ivy League’s lead as the Coronavirus continues to spike across the country.

Jackson Lewis’ Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group will continue to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on collegiate and professional sports. Please feel free to reach out to any member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group with questions.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.