The reality of attempting to play competitive sports in the midst of a raging pandemic that is worsening by the day despite the hope of vaccines and a new presidential administration has collegiate football programs reconsidering moving forward with a spring season.
North Carolina Central is the latest HBCU program to opt-out of the upcoming 2021 spring campaign because of COVID-19 concerns.
“We are disappointed that we will not be able to compete this spring,” NCCU athletic director Dr. Ingrid Wicker McCree said in a statement. “Our priority is to always provide the best academic and athletic experience for each student-athlete, and delivering this news to members of our football program was difficult.
“However, after careful and deliberate discussions with our coaching staff and sports performance team members, the health, safety, and well-being of our football student-athletes prevailed as the number one factor in this decision. We have seen first-hand the impact of the pandemic. There are more challenges at this time and it is best for us not to move forward, but to allow our young men to remain safe and prepare for the fall 2021 season.”
North Carolina Central head coach Trei Oliver called the decision to forgo the season “very tough” but acknowledged that his players were just not physically prepared to endure a season at this point despite a longer than usual offseason.
“We evaluated our student-athletes after completing their first week of workouts this semester and determined we would not be physically prepared by the start of the season,” Oliver said. “Football is a high-impact sport and a violent game. I know it is not in the best interest of our student-athletes to attempt to play and risk a catastrophic injury. We are very disappointed. As a competitor, you try to do all that you can to play, but I am not going to risk the well-being of my players.”
The Bulldogs were scheduled to start its season on Feb. 20 versus South Carolina State.
North Carolina Central joined Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman along with 26 other schools that decided to not participate this spring.
The decision by NCCU comes a month after the MEAC revised its conference schedule to adjust to the absence of FAMU and BCU. That new schedule approved by the MEAC’s athletics directors called for Northern Division teams to play four conference games within the division, including each institution playing one opponent twice. In the Southern Division, each of the three members will play each other twice, for a total of four games.
Teams from both divisions have open dates where they may choose to play non-conference games.
The Northern and Southern division teams with the best records are scheduled to square off for the MEAC championship on April 17.