The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was created during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency to help protect the health and safety of college athletes. Today, the organization is being critiqued for allowing student athletes to continue competing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both The Washington Post and The New York Times highlighted this issue citing a soon-to-be-published article co-written by associate professor Thomas Baker. The article titled, “Exploring College Sports in the Time of COVID-19: A Legal, Medical and Ethical Analysis,” explores the implications of resuming intercollegiate sports in the midst of a pandemic from a legal, medical and ethical perspective.
Baker, who teaches in the department of kinesiology—along with Fordham University and Baruch College law professor Marc Edelman, University of Michigan associate professor Andrew Shuman and Oklahoma State University assistant professor John Holden—adopted an interdisciplinary approach to the question of how and when to return to sports.
Together, they collectively expressed their concerns regarding how NCAA member colleges are approaching the legal and ethical issues surrounding the continuation of intercollegiate sports during a pandemic. The authors proposed 10 best practices for colleges to determine when and how to resume offering intercollegiate sports.
Among these best practices, colleges should implement proper medical protocols to provide a likelihood that college athletes will remain safe, integrate transparent input from local doctors and epidemiologists and consider the proper allocation of scarce medical resources. Additionally, colleges need to provide equal treatment to revenue-generating athletes, athletes in non-revenue sports and non-athletes.
They also recommend that all student athletes should be guaranteed the opportunity to choose not to play during the pandemic without any negative action taken against them. With these best practices in mind, college athletic administrators will be able to make more informed decisions on when and how to return to competition in a safe, consistent and equitable manner.
“In recent decades, the NCAA has taken actions that arguably prioritize maximizing individual member schools’ athletic revenues over concerns of athlete safety,” they wrote in the article. “The NCAA’s changing, if not conflicting, ideals call into doubt their willingness to address this complex challenge [of playing in a pandemic] with the best interests of student athletes in mind.”
According to The Washington Post article, basketball and football teams at large state and private schools generate most of college sports’ revenues and are composed disproportionately of Black men, who are underrepresented among undergraduate enrollees. The article further highlighted that Black families, to whom those athletes return home, are among the hardest hit by COVID-19 of all demographics in the country.