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Jim Phillips: “Not appropriate” to play college football games if no fans can attend

Northwestern’s athletic director made his stance clear Friday afternoon.

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Northwestern Vice President for Athletics and Recreation Jim Phillips said Friday in an interview with SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum, “It is not appropriate for us to play college football without fans. If that were the case, it would mean there would be major reservations about group gatherings,” according to 247Sports.

Phillips’ interview comes amid great uncertainty in the sports world, as state shutdowns around the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic have kept both college and professional athletics as well as normal life at a standstill.

The AD’s comments mirror that of other athletic directors and conference commissioners, such as Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick and Bob Bowlsby of the Big 12. The prospect of a college football season in the fall, at least with fans in attendance, seems increasingly in peril, as conference commissioners and College Football Playoff officials seemingly agreed that college football would not be played until students are cleared to be on campus.

Phillips’ and others’ comments contrast those of President Trump, who told professional sports commissioners a week ago that he fully expects the NFL to be able to start on time with fans in the attendance in September, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

On the academic side of things, there is uncertainty as to whether colleges and universities will be able to return to in-person instruction in the fall. Boston University made headlines on April 10 when its recovery plan included the possibility of a return to in-person classes in January 2021. In an email to students this week about the financial impacts of COVID-19 on Northwestern, University President Morton Schapiro said that a “return to on-campus instruction in the summer or fall is not guaranteed.”

Ultimately, it’s incredibly challenging to predict how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out with regard to the resumption of sporting events. Phillips’ words certainly add some insight to the decision making involving thousands of student-athletes and college football’s adjacent revenue streams.