COVID-19: Big-Time Football on the Edge

News report says Big Ten to cancel season, as Trump and others lobby for football; assessing how COVID-19 changed grading and assessment; no apparent increase in financial aid applications.

August 11, 2020
 

As dominoes fell around them in recent days, as colleges of all shapes and sizes announced that they would not play intercollegiate sports this fall, the five sports leagues that make up the Power Five conferences had held out. But the big-time football season is now teetering, too, assuming a Detroit Free Press article Monday had it right.

The newspaper, citing identified sources, said that presidents of universities in the Big Ten Conference had voted by a 12-2 margin to cancel the 2020 football season. The conference had originally planned for conference-only competition, but has faced increased pressure over the last week from athletes organizing to improve health and safety measures for play amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Free Press said that a formal announcement was expected today.

Other Power Five conferences, which include the country's highest-profile (and most-revenue-producing) college athletics programs, are expected to make announcements about the fall season early this week, ESPN reported. Division II and III leaders decided last week that they would cancel fall athletic championships, and the first conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Mid-American Conference, postponed fall sports on Aug. 8. Reports late Monday indicated that the Mountain West Conference, another Football Bowl Subdivision league, was poised to join the Mid-American in punting on the fall football season.

ESPN reported late Monday that concerns about increased incidence of a dangerous heart-related condition among athletes infected with the coronavirus was influencing the decisions of football officials. The network reported that myocarditis had been found in "at least five Big Ten Conference athletes" and some players in other leagues.

The news report about the Big Ten and rumors over the weekend that big-time football might not happen this fall brought vocal responses from groups of players and from numerous politicians, including the country's most-visible one.

"The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled," the president said in another tweet.

Trump was joined by several U.S. senators from states where football is king. Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, drafted a letter to Big Ten presidents urging them not to cancel the season, Sports Illustrated reported. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio also pleaded for the games to go on.

Some leading college football players, meanwhile, said they too wanted the season to be played, even though other groups of players had protested in recent days that their universities were not sufficiently protecting them against COVID-19-related dangers. The players tweeted using the hashtag #WeWanttoPlay.

--Greta Anderson and Doug Lederman


Most colleges and instructors made significant changes to how they assessed student learning during the spring's emergency pivot to remote learning, in ways that acknowledged the heavy strain facing students (and instructors), such as providing more flexibility in assignments and deadlines and the adoption of pass/fail and other forgiving approaches, a new survey shows.

But instructors and institutions often made such decisions without asking students about their needs or without taking information from students into account, says a report of the survey of roughly 800 faculty and staff members by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, released today.

In addition to examining how colleges changed their approach to grading and assessment of learning, the report also offers a list of do's and don'ts for the fall semester. First and foremost: "Do not forget that we are in a pandemic. Still. Do not forget that it is also an inequitable pandemic."

--Doug Lederman


Applications for federal and state financial aid for college are a leading indicator of how many students will enroll in and complete a college degree. A University of Michigan study shows that those applications have not increased with the additional need created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The study found no increases in Michigan in students filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the Tuition Incentive Program, Michigan's largest state scholarship program for low-income students.

"It is worrying that we haven't seen any aid application expansion, and particularly that the gaps based on race or school income level have widened. FAFSA and TIP completion rates would need to be even higher than normal to keep up with the challenges created by the pandemic," said Kevin Stange, associate professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

--Scott Jaschik


 

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