The Mid-American Conference has postponed its entire fall sports season, becoming the first FBS conference to make the drastic decision because of ongoing concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
League presidents met Saturday morning and voted unanimously for the postponement. The MAC is the first FBS conference to opt not to play this fall. Earlier this week, FBS independent UConn became the first FBS program to cancel its season.
MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said the decision "was not made lightly nor without significant contemplation and conversation over the past weeks."
"Clearly we are charting a conservative path -- and it is one that has been recommended by our medical advisory group," Steinbrecher told reporters on a video conference. "There are simply too many unknowns for us to put our student-athletes in situations that are not clearly understood. We have traditionally been a leader on student-athlete well-being issues. This has not been an easy decision. For the Mid-American Conference, it is the right decision."
The MAC said it has started formalizing plans to move all affected sports -- football, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's soccer, field hockey and women's volleyball -- to spring 2021, if possible.
No decision had been made regarding winter sports, including men's and women's basketball.
Steinbrecher talked about his struggle during the pandemic to let his "emotional wall down." On Saturday, he had to pause once to collect himself as he spoke with reporters about the gravity of what he called "simply a miserable decision."
"When I had to shut down our basketball tournament in March, I was asked how I felt and I gave a very stiff answer, saying I didn't feel -- I just worked the issue," Steinbrecher said. "I said that because I was unsure if I let my emotional wall down, I would not stay composed. Today I am in the same place.
"I'm crushed by this decision. I am so disappointed. It's just crushing that we can't facilitate the opportunities this fall because of circumstances around us. I'm heartbroken on that. The flip side is I take comfort, and I would say our presidents take comfort, and I assume all others that we're making decisions for the right reasons."
Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier on Saturday said the idea of putting college football players in an NBA-style "bubble" wasn't a reality and that the MAC made the right decision.
"The realist in me just said, 'Wow, this is not going to happen,'" said Frazier, whose wife suffers from asthma and knows others who have had COVID-19. "We need more time for data collection. We need more time to see how this all pans out. I cannot put my kids in harm's way. If I wouldn't have my own kid play this sport, or if I have a doctor tell me that he wouldn't have his kid, play, how I can put someone else's kid out there?"
"... We've got to go to class. We've got to interact with other people. All that boiled into a blender of saying, 'We're not going to be able to do this.' For me to push to do this without having the proper safeguards would be irresponsible. A lot of leagues will come to their decision-making, and I'm quite sure they'll do the right thing for themselves. I wish them luck in the process. I certainly don't wish any ill will. But what we did in the MAC was the right decision for us. I'm going to sleep a lot better knowing I didn't put someone else's kid or loved one in harm's way."
Central Michigan football coach Jim McElwain said on Twitter that the decision not to play was a "disappointment" but that "we respect the decision made by the MAC today."
While we are disappointed to not be playing this fall, we respect the decision made by the MAC today. Our main priority is ensuring the safety of our players, staff, their families and loved ones. This is a difficult time, but we will get through it, and we'll do it together.— Jim McElwain (@CoachMcElwain) August 8, 2020
Steinbrecher said he hopes the coaches, athletes and players can have some assurance that the conference will "make every effort to provide competitive opportunities in the spring."
He said the MAC will have a series of working groups and that administrators, doctors, coaches and players will play a significant role in helping develop a new 12-month program for 2021.
"This fall our presidents will get updates on a monthly report," Steinbrecher said. "By mid-fall, hopefully we'll have plans in place that will have been approved. And then, somewhere later this fall, whether that's November or December, I think the virus will have a big determination on our ability to ultimately say it's a go or a no-go. At some point, we'll make that determination that we can move forward with these plans."
Steinbrecher said he sent an email to the other nine FBS conference commissioners in advance of Saturday morning's news but said it was still too early to gauge any reaction as to whether the MAC decision might trigger other conferences to do the same.
Big Ten presidents also met Saturday, and the Pac-12 CEO group is expected to meet early next week.
"I won't try to judge what other folks are doing," Steinbrecher said. "I know we're all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They're going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving."
Steinbrecher said the MAC presidents started their meeting Thursday, when they were presented with a handful of scheduling models to consider, but they were unable to finish the meeting. When they reconvened Saturday, he said the group was in unanimous agreement about postponing everything.
"I had no certainty of how that would play out," Steinbrecher said. "It could have gone several different ways. ... This was a hard decision but a thoughtful decision."
The statement also said that players hope the MAC's decision "does not equate to the loss of eligibility for our athletes."
Nine of 13 conferences at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) -- Division I's second tier -- already announced postponement of their fall football seasons with an eye toward making them up in the spring.
But in the FBS, conferences have been putting in place plans -- however tentative -- for the coming season. The Power 5 went first, and then the so-called Group of 5, with the American Athletic, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Conference USA all completing schedule models this week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.