University of Connecticut becomes first NCAA Division I program to cancel its football season

Photo courtesy: UConn Athletics

The University of Connecticut football team won’t be taking the field in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Huskies athletic department has cancelled all football competition for the upcoming school year, becoming the first NCAA Division I school to do away with its schedule due to the coronavirus.

“After receiving guidance from state and public health officials and consulting with football student-athletes, we’ve decided that we will not compete on the gridiron this season. The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk,” director of athletics David Benedict said.

Members of the team will remain enrolled in classes, either virtually or in person, as full-time students at UConn. The team members will also retain access to facilities and support services in accordance with NCAA rules, ensuring that student-athletes remain on track academically and developmentally.

While the Huskies began spring practice on Tuesday, February 4 and were one of the only teams in the country to complete a full spring schedule, the opportunities to condition and train as a team have been limited in recent months. The team has been on campus since early July with zero student-athletes testing positive for COVID-19.

“We engaged and listened to the concerns of our football student-athletes and feel this is the best decision for their health, safety, and well-being. Our team is united in this approach and we will use this time to further player development within the program and gear ourselves to the 2021 season,” head football coach Randy Edsall said.

This season’s games against Illinois, Indiana, Maine and Mississippi have already been taken off the schedule by those schools’ respective conferences and uncertainty surrounded the contests against North Carolina and Virginia. The football student-athletes offered their thoughts in a statement.

“As a team we are in full support of the decision to not compete in 2020. We have many health concerns and not enough is known about the potential long term effects of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, we have not had the optimal time to train mentally & physically to be properly prepared to compete this season. We love this game and love competing.  We came to campus in the beginning of July knowing there would be challenges presented by the pandemic but it is apparent to us now that these challenges are impossible to overcome.”

Canadian quarterback Jack Zergiotis started 10 games as a true freshman for the Huskies in 2019. He completed 58 percent of his pass attempts for 1,782 yards with nine touchdowns versus 11 interceptions. The John Abbott College product would have been the favourite to start the 2020 season at QB for UConn.

Zergiotis would have been competing with fellow Montreal native Jonathan Senecal for the starting job. Senecal was a highly touted recruit coming out of College Andre-Grasset, part of Quebec’s CEGEP school system. Laval University and the University of Montreal tried to keep Senecal in Canada, however, he chose to go the NCAA route.

Meanwhile on defence, defensive end Lwal Uguak had a breakout campaign for UConn in 2019. The Edmonton native notched 19 tackles, four tackles for loss, four sacks, knocked down two passes, forced one fumble and recovered another in 12 games last year. Uguak played at Harry Ainlay High School and helped the football team to an Alberta tier one championship in 2017. The six-foot-five, 270 pounder was ready to build on his strong sophomore season.

“The necessary measures needed to mitigate risk of football student-athletes contracting the coronavirus are not conducive to delivering an optimal experience for our team,” Benedict said.

“Ultimately, the student-athletes would rather preserve their year of eligibility with an eye to competing under more typical circumstances during the 2021 season.”