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Questions Remain In Return-To-Campus and Return-To-Play

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Questions Remain In Return-To-Campus and Return-To-Play

Harvard won't be back this fall. Photo Harvard Rugby.

Return to play in college rugby looks to be a confused cluster after this week.

Colleges around the USA are coming up with creative and disparate plans to get students back to school, and for rugby programs that isn’t necessarily good news.

Hyrbid Return Plans

Several universities and university systems are welcoming students back to campus. But those returns are varied in their scope. Some will have a combination of in-person and online classes (see the University of Wisconsin system).

The Penn State system is in a similar situation. Various university systems are also deciding to end in-person learning at Thanksgiving—basically telling students to go home for Thanksgiving, and then finish their course work and exams from home and not travel a second time back to school and then home for the winter break.

But return to campus for classes isn’t the same as giving the OK to sports. And even if the OK is given to some sports, others, like football, wrestling, and rugby, which require frequent and close physical contact, may not be approved while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to work its way through the population.

No Fall Sports For Ivy League

And then there’s the Ivy League. The Ivy League took a stand today, announcing that all fall sports will be canceled for the fall of 2020. 

No football, no cross country, no field hockey, no soccer, no volleyball, and no rugby. In addition, a number of sports that play in the fall and the winter will not be able to start until January.

That hits the NIRA season hard. Whether all of the NIRA women’s NCAA teams will follow suit is yet to be seen, but with Dartmouth, Harvard, and Brown not participating, the league will miss a chunk of its teams and will have to adjust.

ICE Chimes In

And even if the teams can play, will they get all their players. News came out this week that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced that students with F-1 student visas will not be allowed to remain in the country if their college goes to all online classes.

International students have for years been required to take at least some classes in person—otherwise, there’s no educational reason for them to be in the country.

Some schools are not happy about this, and there have even been efforts to get around the rules by creating in-person classes. But the upshot for rugby is significant. Many high-level collegiate programs depend on overseas students. If those students are attending schools that are going online, then they certainly won’t be able to remain in the country to play rugby.

The Changing COVID Picture

And, of course, everything is changing very quickly. Plans to open up business and the country have been scaled back as more and more people are reported to be COVID-19 positive in recent days.

However, while positive cases are up, deaths are down, and in a few weeks, things could, once again, be very different.

The Calm After The Storm In The Northeast

What is very likely, though, is that the densely-populated Northeast, where the pandemic has hit the hardest (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut account for more than half the COVID-19 fatalities in the USA but only 16% of the population) will see on-campus college instruction, and by extension the rugby season, curtailed.

This will have some wide-ranging ramifications. Two major organizations, NCR and USA Rugby, will be depending very heavily on membership dues to operate and pay the bills. If there’s no rugby in most of Northeast collegiate rugby, that’s several hundred thousand dollars that those organizations (more NCR than USA Rugby as things look right now) will not be bringing in.