For the first time since 1941, Winston-Salem State will not play football in the fall.
CIAA chancellors and presidents voted this afternoon to suspend the fall athletics season because of the ongoing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
“This was a difficult decision but remains consistent with our long-standing priority of always acting in the best interest of our student-athletes, coaches, and support staff,” CIAA commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said in a statement. “While there will be no athletic competition in the fall, we will continue to support opportunities that enhance the experiences of our student-athletes, member institutions and partners.”
The conference did not decide whether football and the other fall sports would be played in the spring.
If a move to the spring is adopted, revised game and practice schedules will be established along with the process of determining conference champions for these respective sports, the conference said.
“The safety, health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff are non-negotiable," said Clyde Doughty, Bowie State's athletics director and president of the CIAA Athletic Directors Association. "Decisions of this magnitude are made with those factors as No. 1 priority while looking to address current issues that have an adverse impact on all of us.”
Dominique Graves, WSSU's starting quarterback, said the Rams learned about the postponement through a Zoom meeting for all fall athletes with Athletics Director Etienne Thomas and Chancellor Elwood Robinson.
"It's not a total surprise when you see what's happening all over the country," Graves said. "We're disappointed because we wanted to play, but it makes sense from a safety perspective."
Graves, a rising junior, said hopes football will be played in the spring, but he wasn't optimistic.
"The way it's going a lot of things have to happen," he said.
"We all have to focus on keeping our bodies in shape and we will definitely focus on our books. We have to stay in shape and be ready for the spring if we can play."
Robinson said he wasn't sure whether the virus would permit football to be played in the spring.
"The athletic directors in the CIAA and Etienne Thomas have done a tremendous job, so what happens in the spring with football is not determined," Robinson said. "This virus has got people thinking about every move we make and that's the nature of this thing."
But he said the suspension was the right decision.
"When you look at this thing and how the pandemic has affected everybody and it's so fluid right now," Robinson said.
Robinson said he didn't sugarcoat the situation during the video conference.
"We have worked extremely hard to be ready for our students, which include the athletes, to come back to a safe environment this fall," he said. "But we don't know what's coming from other states, and that's how ravaging this virus has become. So I wanted to make sure they know how much we appreciate them and wanted to make sure they know they will be safe."
The CIAA will honor all athletics scholarships for fall sports, which also include volleyball and cross country.
WSSU students are still scheduled to report to campus for the fall semester Aug. 17. The football team will not report as scheduled Aug. 4.
Thomas said she wasn't sure what the revenue loss would be. WSSU had four home games remaining on its schedule.
"The impact on revenue will be felt," she said. "But we also don't have to spend on travel, and one of our big trips was to Chowan."
Another hit on the athletics department will be the $50,000 that would have come with the game at N.C. Central.
"We definitely want to play that game at some point," Thomas said.
Robert Massey, the Rams' interim head coach, said he's saddened that football would not be played this fall.
"The virus is speaking for itself right now, and the health and safety of these kids is the most important thing right now," Massey said. "We're all disappointed, but that's the reality.
"They have to now focus on their studies and focus on getting their degrees. We will all miss it, for sure, but there's something more important in this world right now and it's about getting a vaccine for this virus so we can play again and everybody can be safe."