UConn, which last month officially left the American Athletic Conference, announced Wednesday that it is suspending its football program for the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
UConn, which went 2-10 in its final season in the AAC, is the first FBS program to suspend its football team because of the pandemic. The Huskies were expected to play as an independent this season.
"After receiving guidance from state and public health officials and consulting with football student-athletes, we've decided that we will not compete on the gridiron this season," UConn athletic director David Benedict said in a news release. "The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk."
Huskies football coach Randy Edsall said he consulted his players before the university made its decision.
"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 in the news release. "Our team is united in this approach and we will use this time to further player development within the program and gear ourselves to the 2021 season."
The university said members of the football team will remain enrolled in classes, either virtually or in person, and would have access to facilities and support services to ensure they remain on track academically.
UConn officials said no student-athletes have tested positive for the coronavirus since early July.
"The necessary measures needed to mitigate risk of football student-athletes contracting the coronavirus are not conducive to delivering an optimal experience for our team," Benedict said. "Ultimately, the student-athletes would rather preserve their year of eligibility with an eye to competing under more typical circumstances during the 2021 season."
"We've done the things necessary to put ourselves in a position to be able to play this season...but as we continued through this process it became evident that we weren't going to be able to do that," added Edsall.
Four of the games on UConn's schedule -- road games at Illinois and Ole Miss and home games against Indiana and FCS foe Maine -- were canceled because of scheduling decisions by those teams' leagues. Games at Virginia and North Carolina were also in question.
In a statement released by the school, UConn's players said, "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."
The Huskies officially left the AAC on July 1 and are required to pay their former league an exit fee of $17 million by 2026. UConn is joining the Big East in all sports besides football, men's and women's ice hockey and rowing.
"I hear people saying that because we're independent we are able to do this," added an emotional Edsall. "Let me just say one thing. If I was a head coach in a conference, at a Power Five conference or a Group of Five conference, I would be saying the same thing. I'd be doing the same thing. Because these young men's lives are more important than money. They're more important than money. I'm just glad we made the right decision.
"I give our kids credit for doing the things that they've done because we don't have a positive test as of right now. That's something that we can control. We can't control what's going to happen come August 14-15, when there's 8,000 more people here on campus."
The Huskies are only 6-30 in three years since Edsall returned for a second tenure before the 2017 season. UConn hasn't had a winning campaign since 2010, which was Edsall's last season before he left for Maryland. He guided the Huskies to an 8-5 record, a share of the Big East title and Fiesta Bowl appearance that season.
UConn said it would consult the Big East before making a decision about other fall sports.
UConn has been one of the most cash-strapped athletics departments in the FBS. In 2018, according to financial data filed with the NCAA, UConn generated about $79.3 million in revenue. About 49% of that revenue came from institutional support ($30.5 million) and student fees ($8.5 million). Only $2.7 million was raised from donors and about $2.4 million from football ticket sales, according to the data.