How COVID-19 Will Change College Sports


  • Tom McMillen, President and CEO, LEAD1 Association
  • Kathy Beauregard, Director of Athletics, Western Michigan University
  • Bob Bowlsby, Commissioner, Big 12 Conference
  • Martin Jarmond, Director of Athletics, Boston College (soon-to-be UCLA)
  • Amy Perko, Chief Executive Officer, Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics
  • Jack Swarbrick, University Vice President James E. Rohr Director of Athletics, University of Notre Dame

Webinar Recap

On Wednesday, with an audience of more than 1,000 attendees, LEAD1 Associated hosted a webinar for its member institutions discussing how COVID-19 will change college sports. The panel, moderated by LEAD1 President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Tom McMillen, included Bob Bowlsby, Commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, Jack Swarbrick, Director of Athletics at the University of Notre Dame, Martin Jarmond, Director of Athletics at Boston College (who was recently named the Director of Athletics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)), Kathy Beauregard, Director of Athletics at Western Michigan University and Amy Perko, the CEO of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

First, the panel highlighted some of the expected lasting changes in college sports from COVID-19. The panel, for example, made the analogy to America’s involvement in the War on Terror – prompted by the 9/11 terrorist attacks – which resulted in a dramatic change in our nation’s policies about safety and vigilance. Related to COVID-19, college sports and all of its stakeholders will need to learn how to coexist with the virus, and, like the changes that resulted from 9/11, our nation’s concerns and ability to function will hopefully improve over time. In this vein, athletics departments will need to change the way they operate particularly as it pertains to public assembly (e.g., live sporting events) and aligning more strategically with institutional leadership (beyond the athletics department).

Even without the pandemic, the panel underscored the current transformational period in college sports due to the recent appellate decision in the Alston case (see Tuesday’s LEAD1 COVID-19 report for more details) and changes on the horizon with regard to NCAA name, image, and likeness (NIL) and transfer rules. The panel even projected the possible closing of institutions in the next several years and the virus’s effect on Olympic sports (such as water polo, swimming and gymnastics) if college sports teams continue to be cut. In addition, some of the panel suggested that the pandemic could slow the arms race in college sports with respect to building facilities and hiring and compensating athletics personnel.

Second, regarding the return of college football, the panel outlined some of the various risks involved and the inevitably of positive tests upon return. Some mitigation strategies include developing plans with respect to treating positive tests, disinfecting athletics facilities and generally broadening protocols upon entrance into campus. In this regard, the panel suggested the need for certain waivers as it pertains to various NCAA bylaws when students return to campus. Ultimately, however, the decision to play football in the fall will be largely based upon the return of the general student population to campus.

Third, the panel generally covered a variety of other topics such as the importance of content to keep fans engaged, the possibility of placing microphones on coaches during games to improve the fan experience (while they are away from the venue), the effect of COVID-19 on the next round of television contracts and the ethical and societal questions that arise with respect to utilizing health resources, such as testing equipment, for the return of sports.