UNC, ECU suspend football practice; NC State, Duke press on

NC State announces it will continue preparing for the 2020 season, even though it has decided to switch to online only classes for the fall semester

North Carolina coach Mack Brown watches his team work out on the practice field in Chapel Hill (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, college administrators — including ACC commissioner John Swofford — were adamant in their assertion that the only way fall sports could take place this year is if students were back on their campuses.

On Thursday, NC State became the third ACC school to end in-person instruction and switch to online-only classes for the fall semester, a move precipitated by several reported COVID-19 clusters among its students. North Carolina and Notre Dame made the same decision earlier in the week.

And yet, despite the moves that will send most of the students at those schools home, the ACC continues to press forward toward a football season scheduled to start on Sept. 12.

“We will continue to hold practices and workouts for our teams under the previously established protocols by our University Athletics Department and local health officials,” Wolfpack senior associated athletic director Fred Demarest said in a statement. “NC State is progressing with the expectation to compete this fall and will be transparent with our student-athletes and programs in the communication of our plans.”

Duke also continued its preseason preparations Thursday morning by holding its 12th practice of fall camp.

North Carolina, however, extended a suspension of all athletic activities on campus through Friday while East Carolina, of the American Athletic Conference, also announced a temporary halt to its preseason football practice.

UNC’s stoppage was originally announced on Wednesday as a 24-hour measure.

“After consulting with our health experts and University leadership, we are taking this action to protect our students, coaches and staff,” said Tar Heel athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a release. “We want to make sure we continue to do everything we can to ensure that that our teams, campus and community remain healthy.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Cunningham’s counterpart at ECU, Jon Gilbert, whose school reported 10 positive COVID-19 cases among its football program — although not all players — on Thursday.

“Today’s decision to pause all football activities comes in consultation with our medical staff after reviewing our latest test results,” Gilbert said. “We will continue to monitor all of our student-athletes on campus and take all the necessary actions to follow all safety protocols established at the local, state and national levels.