The NCAA board of governors on Wednesday directed each division to make its own determination on the status of fall championships no later than Aug. 21.
Each division must meet specific requirements if they are going to conduct NCAA fall sports during the preseason, regular season and postseason. The NCAA determined that if 50% or more of eligible teams in a particular sport in a division cancel their fall season, there will be no fall NCAA championship in that sport in that particular division.
According to the letter, the board of governors "will only support moving forward with fall championships and other postseason play if strict conditions are applied and adhered to."
Among those are: following the NCAA's recently released return-to-sport guidelines, adhering to federal, state and local guidelines related to COVID-19, and allowing athletes to opt out of participation because of concerns about contracting COVID-19. The NCAA said it will establish a phone number and email address to allow college athletes and their parents or others to report alleged failures.
"The first and most important consideration is whether sports can be conducted safely for college athletes," Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and University of California system president, said in the letter. "Each division must examine whether it has the resources available to take the required precautions given the spread of COVID-19."
According to the letter, the board based its requirements on guidance from the NCAA's COVID-19 advisory panel, established in March and comprising leading medical, public health and epidemiology experts. The panel will continue to closely monitor the pandemic and its impact on higher education and college sports and to provide any recommended changes to the requirements.
"Our decisions place emphasis where it belongs -- on the health and safety of college athletes," NCAA president Mark Emmert said. "Student-athletes should never feel pressured into playing their sport if they do not believe it is safe to do so. These policies ensure they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about playing this fall."
The NCAA said each division must determine no later than Aug. 14 the eligibility accommodations that must be made for student-athletes who opt out of participating this fall or for those whose seasons are canceled or cut short because of the virus.
Division II and III, meanwhile, on Wednesday canceled fall sports championships for the 2020-21 season, citing "the COVID-19 pandemic and related administrative and financial challenges."
The NCAA also stated member schools can't require student-athletes to waive their legal rights regarding COVID-19 as a condition of athletics participation. The NCAA is also requiring member schools to cover COVID-19 related medical expenses for student-athletes to prevent out-of-pocket expenses for the athletes and their families.
"First and foremost, we need to make sure we provide a safe environment for college athletes to compete for an opportunity to play in NCAA championships," Emmert said. "A decision based on the realities in each division will provide clarity for conferences and campuses as they determine how to safely begin the academic year and the return to sports."