MUNCIE, Ind. – Ball State’s Scheumann Stadium will be eerily quiet this fall.
The Mid-American Conference postponed all fall sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic after a vote by university presidents on Saturday. The league intends to play fall sports in the spring.
The Cardinals’ football team was looking to take another step forward in head coach Mike Neu’s fifth season at his alma mater. Now he’ll have to wait to see what the spring brings.
“In these uncertain times, leaders are having to make difficult decisions,” Neu said in a statement. “We are thankful to have thoughtful leadership guiding the Mid-American Conference and Ball State University and placing the well-being of our student-athletes at the forefront. We are unquestionably heartbroken we will not be able to take the field this fall to represent our great university.
“We have an exceptional group, led by a remarkable senior class and leadership council, capable of accomplishing special things. We also understand the challenges right now to pursuing a fall schedule. With the school year set to begin, our student-athletes will continue to work hard in the classroom and in training in anticipation of the next time we are able to safely compete.”
The MAC was hit hard financially by “Power 5” conferences deciding to play league games only or limiting the number of non-conference games. Schools depend on big payouts from these games for their entire athletic department budget.
Football was the only Ball State men’s sport affected by the announcement. Four women’s sports are on hold: cross country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball. The conference said no decision has been made on winter sports yet.
“Unlike campus residential and academic settings, the field of competition can limit proper physical distancing and creates conflicts with the use of masks or face coverings, said BSU president Geoff Mearns. “I respect the advice from our medical experts who have advised that this postponement is currently the safest path forward.”
“As former student-athletes, the president and I empathize with our student-athletes,” BSU athletics director Beth Goetz said. “We will continue to explore the best opportunities to train while our primary focus remains on the safety and well-being of our Ball State students as they prepare for the start of the academic year.”
One of the consequences of the conference’s decision is schools intending to play this fall may try to poach players, but the MAC’s choice may open the door for other leagues to postpone play as well.
The Big Ten decided Saturday teams must practice wearing only helmets. They are not allowed to use full-pads yet.
“We understand there are many questions regarding how this impacts schedules, as well as the feasibility of proceeding forward with the season at all,” the Big Ten wrote in a statement. “As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes.”