What fall sports might look like across NCAA campuses

60 Minutes Overtime reports on the outstanding questions facing college athletics during the COVD-19 pandemic.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an added importance on summer planning from preschool to medical school. As the start of the next academic year approaches, America's higher education institutions must brace for a new set of challenges.

This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent John Dickerson reported on the next major obstacle to face colleges and universities – how and when to resume in-person instruction.

At The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, athletic director Bubba Cunningham is navigating another staple to campus life – collegiate athletics.

"I think the biggest decision for our campus is how do you restart the campus?" UNC's Cunningham told Dickerson. "When do you bring the students back?"

At UNC that means determining the safest way to welcome back about 30,000 students including roughly 800 student-athletes across 28 teams. 

UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham speaks with John Dickerson 60 Minutes/Eric Kerchner

The NCAA began allowing some voluntary practices on June 1 as long as schools adhere to local, state, and federal regulations pertaining to the pandemic.

Cunningham told 60 Minutes, student-athletes live both on and off campus making it difficult for them to remain in a quarantined bubble. In an effort to control any potential outbreak, he explains UNC has created a testing regimen that begins when athletes arrive on campus.  

"Each person that comes in the football building will be tested upon their first time back," Cunningham said. "Then we will wait for the test results. Then we'll assess them from a physical standpoint. And then they'll be able to engage in voluntary activities. And then a week to 10 days later, they'll be tested again."

About 500 miles southwest of Chapel Hill, North Carolina lies Birmingham, Alabama and the headquarters of the Southeastern Conference. 

Its member schools have won six of the last ten Division 1 college football national championships. The pursuit of a seventh is supposed to begin in early September.

"Our focus is on playing the season as scheduled beginning Labor Day weekend," said Herb Vincent, Associate Commissioner at the SEC. "If circumstances present themselves and we have to pivot and make adjustments we will do that, but we will do that when we have more information and we will be prepared." 

Some of the outstanding information Vincent speaks of may help answer questions regarding fan attendance. Nine SEC football stadiums hold more than 75,000 people.

"Right now [fan attendance] will be likely dictated by local and state information and regulations," Vincent told 60 Minutes. "So right now it's not a decision we have to make." 

If fans can to attend games this fall, athletic director Cunningham and his team at The University of North Carolina are analyzing every detail of the fan experience ranging from parking, to stadium entry, to restroom use.

"If we invite people back, we want them to be safe and confident that they will be safe," Cunningham said. 


When it comes to seating fans, Cunningham told 60 Minutes the possibilities range from a general admission approach where fans can socially distance naturally to strategically dispersing season ticket holders throughout the stadium. 

If there is not a fall athletic season or it is modified, colleges and universities will be forced to reconfigure their budgets.

"Football and basketball certainly provide an awful lot of revenue, if not all of the revenue for our department," Cunningham told 60 Minutes. "We believe in the athletic experience, in how it enhances the educational experience on our campus. So we'll have to work through the financials, should we play or not play."

The severity of the financial impact will vary by school.

In 2018, only 29 collegiate athletic departments generated more revenue than expenses, according to the NCAA. All of those programs were members of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, or SEC – a collective commonly known as the "power five" conferences.

The NCAA said that in 2018, athletic departments across its three divisions spent more than $18 billion, but only generated $10.3 billion in revenue.

Video courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill.

The video above was produced by Keith Zubrow and Sarah Shafer Prediger. It was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.