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President's Corner: Canceling Fall Sports: An Easy Decision for ODU

Old Dominion University had never broken rank with the 13 other members of Conference USA on a major issue, but we did so a couple of weeks ago because we have never before encountered a crisis like a pandemic.

We announced on August 10 that, although Conference USA planned to play football, we were postponing fall sports.

Athletic Director Wood Selig and I made our decision after consulting with medical experts, state and local officials and our head coaches. We concluded that we could not reasonably ask our student-athletes to compete this fall.

Our team doctors and other respected leaders were adamant - collectively, they did not feel it was safe to play. The infection rate in our area was still high, and we were operating under guidelines that limited crowds to no more than 50. That meant our football team could not fully gather for practice.

All of that made this an easy decision for us.

However, it wasn't an easy message to deliver because we also knew this would be painful news for many on and off campus.

The decision was well received by a majority of our student-athletes, but some were disappointed, and we understand why. Some might have played their last game for ODU. Although we hope to play fall sports in the spring, there are no guarantees that will happen. So some students might graduate and leave campus with no closure to their athletic careers.

That happened last spring, during the onset of the coronavirus, when the NCAA canceled all sports. Numerous athletes left our campus without enjoying Senior Day, a highlight for most players, or getting to say a proper goodbye to their teammates.

The virus has spread far more nationally this summer than anyone anticipated. If it was a good decision to cancel sports in the spring, it's the same good decision now.

While the decision was made with all fall sports in mind, our fans will be most impacted by the loss of football. We had been scheduled to open the season last Friday night at home under the lights against Wake Forest. Only 11 years ago, we opened against Chowan. This would have been the first game for head coach Ricky Rahne, whom we hired from Penn State - and one many of our fans had been looking forward to.

Our discussions with medical experts and other community leaders were important, but so were our conversations with student-athletes. We felt a genuine sense of trepidation from many of them.

They weren't afraid of practicing or being around their teammates in locker rooms. But some were apprehensive about staying in a hotel and competing against teams with coronavirus protocols over which we had no control.

We were heartened the day of our announcement to see a message from Messiah deWeaver, our junior quarterback, who had transferred from Michigan State and is working on his MBA.

"I appreciate you keeping our health and safety first," he wrote to both of us.

That will always be a major priority here at ODU.

Note: A longer version of this column, written by President Broderick and Wood Selig, Old Dominion's athletic director, appeared in The Washington Post on Sept. 4.

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