While pro basketball, soccer and baseball have experienced halting moments in their recent returns with sprinklings of positive tests and hiccups in the testing process, a return of college sports is even more problematic because its players — unlike the professionals — are not paid.
Also, the surge in cases in many pockets of the country over the last month has created more obstacles for the return this fall of college football, which many schools count on for millions of dollars in television, ticket and advertising revenues that fuel athletic departments.
The relatively simple task of bringing football players back to campus for voluntary workouts has in some cases proved so problematic that schools have been forced to abandon them because of Covid-19 outbreaks within their ranks. In the last week, Kansas, Louisiana Tech and Texas-El Paso became the latest to shut down.
Colleges at the lower levels of the N.C.A.A., which is made up of more than 1,100 schools, have already begun to cancel fall sports. Williams, Bowdoin, Swarthmore and Grinnell — all small liberal arts colleges that play at the nonscholarship Division III level — are among those to call off their fall sports seasons.
So, too, have the dozen Division II schools in the California Collegiate Athletic Association, which in May announced that it would cancel fall sports shortly after the Cal State University chancellor said that courses this fall would be held online with few exceptions. But those schools, like Swarthmore, do not play football.
The Patriot League, which includes Lehigh, Lafayette, Fordham and other mostly small colleges in the Northeast with limited athletic scholarships, announced late last month that its fall sports — including football, which competes at the F.C.S. level — would play league competition from the end of September until Thanksgiving, yet travel by airplane would not be permitted. Fordham announced Tuesday that it had canceled its first three games — including a Sept. 12 game at Hawaii. Last week, Lafayette canceled its season-opening game at Navy.
Shortly after the Patriot League announced its restrictions, Morehouse College, which competes at the Division II level, became the first scholarship program to cancel its football season. The decision by Morehouse, a historically Black college, highlighted a troubling prospect: that if the school played football it could potentially harm even more African-American people, which through comorbidity factors, living conditions or inadequate access to health care have shown to be more vulnerable to the most severe effects of the virus.