As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten collegiate athletics, the NCAA has released guidelines for practices and games across all sports. Some sports, including football, are at a substantial disadvantage due to the impossibility of social distancing and mask wearing. However, the NCAA has identified baseball as a sport where it is possible to "successfully implement physical distancing and universal masking practices during all sport activities" which means that "the risk of potential spread related to [baseball] will decrease."
While it is difficult to predict the extent to which COVID-19 will impact revenues, schedules, and even the very existence of teams, the new set of guidelines from the NCAA at least provide a path forward for college baseball to continue in the spring.
The specifics of the NCAA recommendations for "medium contact" sports like baseball include:
Diagnostic testing upon arrival to campus.
During summer athletic activities and out-of-season athletic activities: surveillance PCR testing, for example, testing 25%-50% of athletes and “inner bubble” personnel every two weeks if physical distancing, masking and other protective features are not maintained, plus additional testing for symptomatic and high-contact risk individuals.
During in-season (preseason, regular season and postseason): surveillance PCR testing, for example, 25%-50% of athletes and “inner bubble” personnel every two weeks if physical distancing, masking and other protective features are not maintained, plus additional testing for symptomatic and high contact risk individuals.
Symptomatic testing and high-contact risk testing as appropriate.
Also relevant to college baseball are the NCAA's recommendations around travel. "When feasible, schools should aim to travel and play the same day to avoid overnight stays," suggests the NCAA. "For overnight stays or same-day travel, prepackaged meals or room service should be considered." Weekend series make it such that overnight stays are unavoidable in college baseball.
North Carolina State has already withdrawn from the 2021 Round Rock College Classic due to budget concerns, so it is likely that COVID-19 will have both a health and economic impact on college baseball scheduling next season.
While no schools or conferences have cancelled spring sports, the Ivy League was the first to suspend athletic activities for the rest of the calendar year. The Ivy League was also the first conference to suspend athletic activities during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The full extent of the COVID-19 pandemic on college baseball will likely not be realized until there is more clarity around the revenue impact from potential changes to the college football season.
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