UMass cancels 2020 fall football, as COVID-19 casts shadow on college season

(Reuters) - The University of Massachusetts canceled its 2020 football season on Tuesday, citing the COVID-19 outbreak, but left open the possibility of competition later in the academic calendar.

The Division-I school, which plays as an independent, said it intended to hold a “competitive schedule for our fall sports in the spring semester” and that participants in the football program would remain enrolled fulltime “either virtually or in-person.”

“The continuing challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic posed too great of a risk, and we reached the conclusion that attempting to play a season would not have placed the members of our program in the safest situation possible,” University of Massachusetts Athletic Director Ryan Bamford said in a written statement.

The Amherst, Massachusetts, school said that football student-athletes have been on campus since late June for team activities, with one positive COVID-19 case reported out of more than 600 tests taken over seven weeks.

Head coach Walt Bell called the news “devastating.”

“I am absolutely heartbroken for our players, our former players, our alumni and our UMass Football community,” Bell said. “Our job as coaches and mentors is to provide opportunities for our players, and do everything in our power to not take them away.”

The announcement followed several reports that the U.S. college sports’ “Power Five” conferences, comprised of the country’s top football programs, had met to discuss the viability of a 2020 season.

The Ivy League said last month that intercollegiate sports would not resume in the fall semester, and the University of Connecticut said last week it was canceling “all competition for the 2020-21 school year” for its football program.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for the college football season to move forward as scheduled.

Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Howard Goller