As sports in the United States begin to return after being canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, college sports should be the first team sports to return, or else they could be the last to recover.
NCAA athletes have only four seasons of eligibility, meaning the current sports drought will cut a greater percentage of college athletes’ careers than professional athletes’, many of whom play professionally for over a decade.
Only 2% of NCAA athletes end up in major professional sports, which means 98% of collegiate athletic careers end senior year. Nearly half a million students participate in collegiate athletics every year, so a further pause in college sports will affect far more athletes than an extended delay to professional sports.
Many professional athletes are millionaires who can forego an extra season to wait for a vaccine, and they will even be healthier after an extended period of time without the daily grind of training and competition.
Athletes who have already begun their collegiate careers are likely to continue taking classes during the pandemic, which does not give them an extra year of eligbility as a collegiate athlete. College athletes can still participate for four seasons, regardless of when those seasons are, should they not turn professional before then. But NCAA recruits have already begun to show fear about the future of collegiate athletics.
Point guard Tyler Beard, a four-star recruit who committed to play men’s basketball for Georgetown University this fall, announced he was delaying his collegiate career and taking a postgraduate year at Hargrave Military Academy before coming to the Hilltop in the fall of 2021. This postponement of a promising collegiate career, likely the first of many, could weaken the quality and reputation of NCAA athletics, as superior athletes begin to take time off rather than participate in collegiate sports.
Beard likely made the correct decision to further develop his skills before his collegiate career, but more decisions like his could weaken the upcoming year of college sports — especially men’s basketball, which is heavily reliant on freshmen.
The arguments for bringing professional sports back ahead of college sports are clear. Professional sports make more money and their teams have more fans. NCAA football is going to be the most difficult sport to bring back. In the wake of the pandemic, sports contests will likely be played without fans. But compared to other collegiate and professional sports, gate and concession revenues make up a much greater proportion of NCAA football revenue than any other sport. But this outcome prevents universities from profiting off their athletics until it is safe for sports to bring back their loyal football fans.
The NCAA not announcing any plans to return to sports, even without audiences, shows a lack of initiative and care for the hundreds of thousands of students whose collegiate careers are put on hold as everyone waits for a coronavirus vaccine.
Professional athletes have longer careers and can use this time without sports to rehabilitate their bodies as they aim to extend their careers to make up for lost time. College athletes are not afforded the same opportunity, as most careers are capped at four years no matter how healthy or strong athletes may be once they graduate.
This summer and fall are probably too early for sports like basketball and hockey to return regardless of level given new daily records in coronavirus cases around the nation. When sports do return, however, collegiate sports should lead the way.
Jake Wexelblatt is a rising junior in the College. Finding Fallacies appears online every other week.