Morehouse College to honor athletic scholarships, despite canceling fall sports

Football and cross country athletes won't take the field when students return to campus for the fall semester

Defensive back Robert Harris of the Morehouse College Maroon Tigers runs back in an interception a 23 to 6 loss to the Alcorn State University Braves on September 30, 2006 at the Los Angeles Memorial Colesium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Reuben Canales/Getty Images)

Morehouse College has decided to withdraw from competing in collegiate-organized sporting events this fall due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the private historically Black institution announced on its website Friday.

On the bright side, the school plans to leave student-athlete scholarships intact, as announced in a public letter to the Morehouse community issued by President David A. Thomas, who said that health and safety must be prioritized as the school seeks to reopen for in-person learning in coming months.

“I write to inform you that due to the COVID-19 virus, Morehouse College will not participate in intercollegiate athletic competition” and the move “will affect our cross country and football sponsored athletic teams,” Thomas said in the statement. “I want all of our scholar-athletes, parents, and alumni to know that the College will honor all athletic scholarship awards.”

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Morehouse, an all-male school in Atlanta, is believed to be the first college football program to cancel its season as a result of the global health crisis. At least four football games scheduled in the HBCU circuit, including the annual Southern Heritage Classic that pits Jackson State University against Tennessee State University, have been canceled thus far, ESPN reports.

The status of winter and spring Morehouse sports teams are unknown at this time. The Maroon Tigers compete in Division II of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC).

“Like all of the decisions we’ve made related to COVID-19, this was a difficult one but was made with the health and well-being of our students and community in mind,” Thomas said. “It follows my intention to maintain a safe campus in hopes that our students will be able to return in August.”

Thomas is also concerned about the risks that come with team travel.

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“Sporting events also invite individuals to our campus who will not be subject to the testing and monitoring that we plan to implement for our students, faculty, and staff,” he wrote.

According to the school’s website, COVID-19 forced Morehouse to complete the spring semester exclusively online beginning in late March. The formal commencement for spring graduates was pushed back to December as social distancing orders prevented large gatherings.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama addressed all HBCU spring graduates via a virtual speech on May 16. He spoke of the challenges they face amid coronavirus.

“These aren’t normal times. You’re being asked to find your way in a world during a devastating pandemic,” Obama said. “A disease like this just spotlights the inequalities and extra burdens that Black communities have historically had to deal with in this country.”

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