This morning, the University of Connecticut announced it would cancel the 2020 football season. The decision makes UConn the first FBS school to cancel football.
“The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk,” UConn Director of Athletics David Benedict said in a statement.
“Ultimately, the student-athletes would rather preserve their year of eligibility with an eye to competing under more typical circumstances during the 2021 season,” said Benedict.
Even if UConn had a football season this year, it would’ve been far from typical. The school left the American Athletic Conference last year to rejoin the Big East. But because the Big East does not have football, the Huskies were expected to play as an independent this season before joining another conference in the future.
Last year, UConn finished with a 2-10 record and did not win a conference game.
The football program did not only have a bad record, they did not bring in the same kind of money as the school’s legendary basketball programs. In the 2019 fiscal year, UConn men’s basketball ticket sales nearly doubled those of football. And women’s basketball boosters donated $685,595 to the program while football received $138,215 in donations, far lower than men’s basketball, and less than other sports, like baseball, softball, men’s golf, men’s and women’s ice hockey, and men’s soccer. The total operating revenue for men’s basketball is $6,028,141, women’s basketball is $4,512,083, and football lags behind at $3,344,909.
Deadspin obtained these figures from a request under Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act.
Despite the financial hurdles, playing a contact sport in a pandemic is too great a risk for these student-athletes who agreed with Benedict’s order to cancel the season. In a statement, the team wrote:
“As a team we are in full support of the decision to not compete in 2020. We have many health concerns and not enough is known about the potential long term effects of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, we have not had the optimal time to train mentally & physically to be properly prepared to compete this season. We love this game and love competing. We came to campus in the beginning of July knowing there would be challenges presented by the pandemic but it is apparent to us now that these challenges are impossible to overcome.”
UConn head coach, Randy Edsall, listened to his players — something college head coaches have been reluctant to do — and agreed with them.
“We engaged and listened to the concerns of our football student-athletes and feel this is the best decision for their health, safety, and well-being,” Edsall said. “Our team is united in this approach.”
While UConn is the first major D1 football program to cancel its season, other programs have punted on their schedule as well. In June, Morehouse College suspended their football season. A few weeks later, the entire Ivy League announced that they would push all fall sports. And just a few days ago, Pac-12 student-athletes started the #WeAreUnited movement to push for safety, economic equality, and racial justice. Pac-12 football players, specifically, wrote a list of demands, threatening to walk out of fall camp and games if the demands are not met.
UConn may not be a powerhouse football program, but today’s decision could encourage other FBS schools to follow the Huskies’ lead.
Jesse Spector contributed to this report.