Bethune-Cookman opts for no sports during 2020-21 school year

Bethune-Cookman, a historically Black college in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, will not play sports during the 2020-21 school year, a move that impacts men's and women's basketball and football.

"In the face of a surging COVID-19 spike across much of the country and the State of Florida, we have concluded that the risks are too great for our student-athletes and staff to travel and compete at this time," Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite, the school's president, said in a statement issued Tuesday. The university has ceased all student athletic activities until further notice, out of an abundance of caution. "The health and safety of our student-athletes, as well as our coaches, staff and fans will always be our top priority.

"We obviously recognize that other institutions may elect to move forward with spring competition. The decision for us, however, was not a complicated one. The risk premium is simply too high and our priority remains the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff. As members of the B-CU family constantly engage in various forms of civic engagement, this decision also protects our community partners as well."

Bethune-Cookman, which will move to the Southwestern Athletic Conference in 2021, is the first known Division I institution to cancel sports for the entire school year. Other schools might face this same move because of financial challenges and concerns about the coronavirus.

The university is currently on lockdown with more than 30 students in quarantine after 15 tested positive for COVID-19 between Oct. 16 and 21.

Bethune-Cookman, located in Daytona Beach, Florida, operates on a $15 million athletic budget, per U.S. Department of Education data.

The NCAA has given all Division I athletes in fall and winter sports an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic. But that hasn't calmed the uneasiness men's basketball players at Bethune-Cookman have felt over the last 24 hours.

Men's basketball coach Ryan Ridder said he had to schedule an emergency -- and emotional -- Zoom call to tell his team the news on Monday. He said they had questions about the future that he couldn't answer.

Ridder also said his program was set to practice Tuesday for the first time since a player tested positive 14 days ago.

"It's been a very fluid situation," Ridder said. "Over the weekend, we had some spikes on campus, so there was a sense of nervousness coming into Monday. But definitely surprised on Monday when they said all sports were canceled."

Ridder said he understands the decision and told his players their safety was the primary concern for the school's leadership. He said he also anticipates other schools could face similar challenges and decisions going forward.

"I don't think we'll be the last," he said.

Programs such as Minnesota and Stanford have eliminated some sports. Ohio State announced last month that it's facing a sizable deficit. UC Riverside, a school in the Big West, is currently trying to save its entire athletic department from elimination.

A source said members of the athletic department have dealt directly with the impact of COVID-19 in their families and immediate circles.

Over the past seven days, Volusia County, where Bethune-Cookman is located, has had 544 cases, or 98 per 100,000, per The New York Times. Overall, cases in Florida have increased by 39% over the past 14 days.

"I know the state has reopened, but that does not give us license to behave as if things are normal," Chrite said in a video posted to Facebook last week. "They are not, and we will pay a price -- including going back to a fully online learning environment -- if we don't do better. No one wants that."