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SWAC commissioner: Fall sports will be canceled if coronavirus delays seasons past mid-October

If football and other fall sports haven’t started by mid-October due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Southwestern Athletic Conference is going to cancel the seasons entirely.

Though a lot can change between now and then, the SWAC is still planning to start its college football season on time in September. However, should it be delayed, commissioner Charles McClelland told ESPN on Friday the conference has officially established a “drop-dead” date that they must start by in order to hold it at all.

“Anything after the third week in October, we have decided that’s our drop-dead date, that we wouldn’t have sports, and possibly look at the spring, but the spring would take some NCAA legislation,” McClelland said, via ESPN.

The SWAC has 10 schools located in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, a region that has seen significant increases in positive coronavirus cases in recent weeks. 

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

There were more than 2.2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of Friday afternoon, according to The New York Times, and more than 119,000 deaths attributed to it. Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana have all seen significant spikes in positive cases over the past 14 days. 

Schools have seen athletes test positive after returning to campus, too. Twenty-eight athletics members tested positive at Clemson on Friday alone, including 23 football players. 

While the start of the season is still months away, conferences across the country are starting to plan on when and how to start their respective seasons. 

“If this thing doesn’t die down, I think you’re probably going to start to see closer to July and on into August more and more conversation about postponement and pushing the season back,” McClelland said, via ESPN. “Spring is something that I don’t think has a lot of momentum within the membership, but if this virus continues to do what it’s doing on into August and September, I think you're going to see another look at where we are and where we need to be.

“There’s time to plan, and there’s time to pull back if there needs to be some pull-back. We’re planning to start, but we’re cautiously planning to start. If this virus is continuing to decimate the population, we’re not going to be in a position we’re going to put people out. We have the right to slow it down or stop it. We’re just planning to ensure we will be ready if that time comes.”

McClelland said that they aren’t going to allow athletes to return to campuses until July 6, and that fan attendance at games this fall will be “significantly reduced,” if allowed at all.

Though there is some pressure to hold a season this fall, given the money that is at stake, McClelland said he isn’t feeling it. Being part of the FCS rather than the FBS, he said, relieves some of that.

“The pressures at the FCS level will be different than the pressures at the FBS level,” McClelland said, via ESPN. “Their margin is way higher than ours. Their television contracts are way higher than ours. There’s going to be different pressures at our level. At our level, we have the least amount of pressure from external forces, and we have a great propensity to do what’s best for our constituency without having the influences of corporate sponsors and television contracts and things of that nature.”

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