California State University system to stay online, leaving fall sports up in air

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The 23-school California State University system will primarily remain in a virtual learning model this fall as the country continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, CSU chancellor Timothy White said Tuesday. That raises questions about the ability for member schools to field athletic teams for the rest of 2020.

At this point, there is not much clarity about what kind of impact the announcement will have on the football programs at San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State, all members of the Mountain West Conference.

A joint statement from Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, Fresno State president Joseph Castro, San Diego State president Adela de la Torre and San Jose State president Mary Papazian said, "Certainly, all conversations are led by academics, as well as public health and safety. Within that framework, more determinations are necessary. All three institutions will work closely with the Mountain West. No decisions on athletics have been made."

The separate University of California system, which includes Cal and UCLA, has not fully committed to the same step as the CSU system and is planning for a "wide range of possibilities."

"At this juncture, we are exploring a mixed approach with some instruction delivered in classroom and lab settings while other classes will be primarily online," the UC system statement said Wednesday. "The health, well-being and safety of our community is of utmost importance. We will continue to carefully monitor the rapidly evolving situation and plan ahead. Our campuses will reopen for on-site instruction when it is safe to do so -- in alignment and coordination with federal, state and local health departments and authorities."

A spokesperson for the UC Office of the President told ESPN there have not yet been formal discussions about how athletics will be impacted by the quickly-evolving instructional models.

The Pac-12, meanwhile, issued a statement saying "our member universities will make our own determinations on when our student-athletes can return to play and when and how campuses will reopen to students. Every day we are learning new and important information that will inform our decisions, and we believe that there is a great benefit to having as much relevant data as possible before making such decisions."

White said the California State University system plan allows for "limited exceptions for in-person teaching, learning and research activities that cannot be delivered virtually, are indispensable to the university's core mission and can be conducted within rigorous standards of safety and welfare."

The Mountain West has discussed a scenario in which some states are not allowed to return to competition, but the conference does not have a firm plan on how to proceed should that end up being the case, a source told ESPN.

"SDSU will offer a hybrid model for classes [some in-person, some virtual]," a spokesperson for San Diego State athletics said in an email. "In athletics, we continue to work through many scenarios, including sports in the fall."

Fresno State AD Terry Tumey said the department "continues to evaluate all opportunities related to the resumption of athletics in advance of the fall 2020 competitive seasons."

"The task force is expected to make an announcement regarding instruction for the fall 2020 term as we move forward," Tumey said. "Until then, we continue to operate the department of athletics and prepare for the upcoming competitive seasons in a manner consistent with our university's mission to boldly educate and empower students for success."

San Jose State AD Marie Tuite said the school continues to "strategize on timelines" and is planning for "multiple scenarios."

"Any decisions made regarding San Jose State University Athletics will be collaborative in nature and implemented in concert with our campus and conference leadership groups, community partners, county health officials, and our chancellor's office," Tuite said.

During a virtual board of trustees meeting Tuesday, White said finding a solution for how to play sports in the fall is complex.

"The NCAA at large is in that early conversation about how do we safely go about bringing student-athletes back into their sports," White said. "And just a few days ago Mark Emmert, who is the president of the NCAA, made the case, which I agree with, that it's not going to be possible to bring student-athletes and coaching staff back to a campus before we actually bring back faculty and students and the academic enterprise."

Emmert's comments came during an interview on the NCAA's Twitter account Friday.

"All of the commissioners and every president that I've talked to is in clear agreement: If you don't have students on campus, you don't have student-athletes on campus," he said. "That doesn't mean [the school] has to be up and running in the full normal model, but you have to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students. ... If a school doesn't reopen, then they're not going to be playing sports. It's really that simple."

Last week, the presidents from the 13-school California Collegiate Athletic Association, made up of NCAA Division II programs in the state, agreed to cancel all fall sports. They made the decision public Tuesday.

"The CCAA member institutions will continue to advocate strongly to maintain NCAA championship opportunities for all of our student-athletes, including our fall sports, during the 2020-21 academic year and recommend competition resume when it is safe and appropriate to do so for all of its members," CCAA commissioner Mitch Cox and Chico State president Gayle Hutchinson said in a joint statement.

White called the CCAA's decision "a sad outcome, but the right thing to do for planning at this point."