The Ivy League plans to resume athletic competition for the fall 2021 season, according to a joint statement issued Tuesday by the Council of Ivy League Presidents.
“Barring unanticipated circumstances, such as a dramatic increase in infection rates from a variant in the virus, we look forward to welcoming our teams back to intercollegiate competition this fall,” they wrote in the joint statement.
Coaches were informed Tuesday morning during a meeting with Vice President of Athletics Grace Calhoun ’92; athletes were informed of the decision the same morning separately via email.
“I think, at least for Brown, they wanted everyone to find out (at) the same time,” said men’s and women’s water polo coach Felix Mercado.
The Ivy League has not formally held athletic competition since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All other Division I conferences permitted conference play for the winter 2020-21 and spring 2021 seasons. Some Ivy League schools, including Brown, permitted teams to hold local scrimmages this spring, but Ivy League teams were unable to compete against one another. Brown’s first athletic competition since the start of the pandemic, a women’s crew race, took place April 3, 2021.
In the statement, the Council attributed their optimism about fall competition to improving public health conditions. They specifically cited “the current steady decline of Covid-19 infections” in the United States and “the broad availability and uptake of vaccinations” as factors informing their decision. Because of these factors, the Council wrote, they “are optimistic that our campuses will be back to something close to normal by this fall, including in-person learning with students in residence.”
While the Ivy League’s decision did not come as a surprise to some, it was still welcome news. “I'll be completely honest, I felt that (a return to competition) was going to be the outcome anyways because of how everything was trending,” Mercado said. “But it was definitely a relief to hear it from Vice President Calhoun.”
Women’s soccer player Juliette Pike ’23 called the announcement “extraordinary and kind of expected.” But, the expectation that this would be the result did nothing to diminish her excitement following the announcement.
“Nothing beat that feeling (Tuesday) morning of finding out that all this work is for something,” she said. As a member of the women’s soccer team that won an Ivy League Championship in 2019, the hiatus was especially difficult for Pike. “It’s been a long year of waiting,” she said. “ We’ve been itching for this moment since the moment we stepped off the field.”
Between much of that championship roster returning and two strong incoming classes, Pike is excited about the team’s chances this fall. “This upcoming fall we have such a strong group. All the (first-years) are fantastic,” she said. “We’re coming off this high of an Ivy League (championship) that’s lasted the past year now.”
Given the inherent uncertainty of the pandemic, the Council acknowledged that extreme circumstances could create the need to reverse course and, as such, all Ivy League schools “are each planning for a range of possible scenarios.” Still, ultimately, the plan is for athletics to resume.
Mercado was cognizant of the possibility of conditions changing. “I think we're all aware of the disclaimer and I'm glad that it’s there,” he said. “(It’s) just a reminder about (the) crazy times we are in right now.” But he doesn’t plan to let the possibility of changing conditions alter his team’s preparation. “You want your team to be ready to go and be focused, but you can only control what you can control,” Mercado said. “But that doesn't mean that we're gonna soft-foot this. We're gonna go full steam ahead and really get back to doing what we do: competing and representing Brown.”
Pike, too, acknowledged the realities of the pandemic, but is ultimately focused on getting ready for the season. “I’m not deterred,” she said, referring to the Council’s comment about possible extenuating circumstances. Rather, she’s focused on making the most of her situation and getting ready for the season. “It’s been like one really, really long preseason,” she said.
Despite the difficulties of being unable to compete, Mercado and his team plan to be ready for the start of the season. “We made the most of our spring semester and we ended in good spirits,” he said. “Everyone’s excited to show up for fall preseason training and to get ready to hopefully compete for a championship.”
Pike is excited not only about the return of women’s soccer, but also about the return of Brown athletics more broadly. “I think everyone’s excited, no matter what sport you are, to get back on the field, back in the pool, back on the court,” she said. “It’s really exciting for Brown athletics too. I feel like we all have such strong teams coming into this fall. I’m super excited about the potential of the women’s soccer team, but (also) every other team at Brown is super excited after this long year of waiting and hard work.”
Peter Swope is the senior editor of digital engagement for The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. He previously served as a Sports section editor and has also written stories for University News. Peter is a junior from New Jersey studying history.