SEASON 96 of the country’s oldest collegiate league will start next year after the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) on Thursday moved to defer its opening in response to the continued threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Following a Policy Board meeting, the NCAA announced that it was decided that Season 96, which Colegio de San Juan de Letran is hosting, shall begin in the “early months of 2021” but still subject to approval of the government and in accordance with strict safety and health protocols.

It also said there will only be four mandatory sports in Season 96, namely, basketball, volleyball, swimming and track and field. The NCAA, though, said that plans for an online chess tournament and esports are being finalized.

Also, in light of the development, some rules and requirements on student-athletes’ eligibility such as age, enrollment, grades and even playing years shall be relaxed in consideration of the disruption of the school year and major changes in the education system.

In coming up with the decision, the NCAA said it had the safety and health of all stakeholders, including student-athletes, coaches and trainers and the general public, in mind.

It went on to say that it is still committed to its objective of youth development through sports despite the setback and that it will get back as soon as conditions allow it.

The NCAA was supposed to open next month until COVID-19 rendered it impossible to do so.

The league was looking at starting the season later this year before arriving at the decision to push it back to early 2021.

The announcement was signed by Rev. Fr. Victor C. Calvo, Jr. OP, chairman of the Management Committee of NCAA Season 96, and Rev. Fr. Clarence Victor C. Marquez, OP, president of the Policy Board of NCAA Season 96.

Both are from host Letran, which incidentally is celebrating its quadricentennial anniversary this year. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo