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Rutgers President Discusses Decision To Postpone Fall Sports

NOEL KING, HOST:

Last week, the Big Ten athletic conference said football season was a go - with some restrictions. Each team would play 10 games, and they'd only play teams in their conference. That plan has now been postponed. The Big Ten has voted to put all of its fall sports on hold because of the pandemic. Rutgers University in New Jersey is part of the Big Ten, and Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway helped make yesterday's decision. He joins me now. Good morning, sir.

JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: Good morning.

KING: I'm fascinated by the fact that your minds seem to have changed in a matter of days from we can play a limited season or a season with some restrictions to we just can't do this. What happened?

HOLLOWAY: Well, I mean, I think it's the story of 2020 that this - the virus is so fluid. And our understanding of it nationally and locally is so fluid that, as we saw more athletes coming back and started to understand the scope of the challenges when it came to contact tracing, et cetera, we realized that we needed to reassess our decision from the previous week.

KING: Some players really wanted to play this fall despite the risks. And some coaches said that they think campus is probably the safest place for their players. Did you talk to coaches and players before helping make this decision?

HOLLOWAY: The athletic directors were engaged directly with the coaches and the players, at least that's the situation at Rutgers. And look. I'm certainly well aware that the players wanted to play, and that's why they're players. And the coaches wanted to have them. Heck, the presidents and chancellors wanted this to happen for all kinds of reasons. I mean, we love sports and the competition. But this is a really difficult situation, and so we had to make the decision that we did.

KING: You, I learned, were on Stanford's football team. Stanford is part of the Pac 12, which also announced yesterday that they would postpone. You must get this disappointment on a very real level.

HOLLOWAY: Oh, sure. I mean, this is - if you're 18, 19, 20 years old and you're playing a varsity sport at college - while you're a student, certainly, so much of your identity is wrapped up in your sport. And the amount of time you spend with your teammates is - you spend a tremendous amount of time with your teammates. And so this is going to be destabilizing for thousands of athletes across the country.

KING: What does this mean at Rutgers for athletes that are on athletic scholarship? Will those scholarships still be honored?

HOLLOWAY: Oh, absolutely. That's not even - there's no hesitation about that. There's nothing that the student athletes have done in this situation that would even merit a conversation about changing their scholarship status. No, we must protect them in that regard.

KING: Are the athletes still going to be training? Will they be on campus?

HOLLOWAY: They'll be on - do you mean before the start of the school year?

KING: Yeah.

HOLLOWAY: Oh, yeah. Well, the plan is that they'll - you know, if they - if they're here, we need to make sure that we are able to house them and support them. I mean, we couldn't simply have somebody who flew in from another part of the country turn around and go back. That's unreasonable. So, you know, there's a lot of questions we have to answer still. But the driving force is going to be making sure that we support our students, and supporting in this way will be important.

KING: One of the unanswered questions that we've been hearing reports about is a possible spring season. What do you think about that idea? Is that possible? Is that likely? Is it reasonable?

HOLLOWAY: (Laughter) Those are three different questions you asked me. I mean, sure, it's possible.

KING: (Laughter) Try all three.

HOLLOWAY: The spring season will be possible. The logistics behind it is something that we're going to work overtime now to figure out. I actually think that TV networks are going to be starved for original content. And while we won't ever have done something like this before in college football, I think there will be a real opportunity in this moment to showcase our towns across the Big Ten in the spring. Now, saying it's possible and executing it are two different things. But it's too early to say that we can't pull this off.

KING: But you've given people a little hope there, and I appreciate that. Let me ask you about some of the big-picture stuff going on here. College sports, of course, make a lot of money for schools. Rutgers was already facing a significant revenue shortfall. What does not playing the football season or any season mean for the school and for students? What gets cut, essentially?

HOLLOWAY: Oh, gosh. Yeah. It's - look. The financial implications are real. Everybody understands that. It's too early to say, though, what gets cut. I mean, in Rutgers specifically, you know, we rely quite a bit on the state of New Jersey. And the state is in a really tough financial situation. So we don't have our final budget numbers in terms of our appropriation for the state. So we - I'm really not able to say, not because I'm trying to hide anything, but literally not able to say what gets cut. But it will be tough.

KING: The Pac 12 Conference, which includes Stanford, UCLA and others will also cancel sports in the fall or postpone them. Do you think other major conferences will do the same? Just briefly.

HOLLOWAY: I won't be surprised if they do. This virus has us all on our heels.

KING: Jonathan Holloway, president of Rutgers University. Thanks for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

HOLLOWAY: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.