Canceling the fall season didn't come easy, said NIU athletic director Sean T. Frazier.
But he said there wasn't really a choice in order to keep students, staff and communities safe.
"We all do believe that COVID has spoken," Frazier said. "The science is the science."
The Mid-American Conference on Saturday announced it will cancel the football season along with all fall sports. The goal is to play the canceled sports in the spring but no firm plans are in place.
With every other Football Bowl Subdivision Conference planning on playing in the fall, coach Thomas Hammock said he's not worried about players transferring out of the school.
"Sean Frazier and the MAC conference made a decision for the health and safety of the student-athletes," Hammock said. "If you can't see that and you need to transfer, then I wish you nothing but the best. ... If a young man wants to transfer, and he's upset people made a decision for his health and safety, then I think that should tell you something right there."
Frazier said the MAC's decision may have effects on other conferences moving forward. The Big Ten on Saturday delayed the start of padded practices.
"We don't want to hold out hope. We don't want to abandon hope. We want this to happen," Frazier said. "But since COVID has graced our door that's not the reality. Folks are doing the best they can under extreme conditions. I can't speak for other conferences, but I've talked to colleagues across the country in different conferences and this is tough. This is an invisible enemy that doesn't want to cooperate at all. ... This might give clarity to some people, this might give hope to some people. Or it might be very scary that this might be the final decision that needs to be made."
Fall practices for the Huskies officially started Friday and will continue.
"We will continue to monitor that and work with the MAC and see how things would work as we go through this modified way in our postponement to see what goes on in the spring," Frazier said.
"We've been at this for six weeks, and we have a lot of information, a lot of ways to navigate and keep our young men safe," Hammock said. "The whole thing has always been when school starts, with the amount of people in dorms or on campus. ... Obviously the ruling just came out today so we're going to continue to follow the rules and guidelines from the NCAA and the MAC."
While expense are "always a factor," Frazier said, the main issue for the cancellation is safety.
"Let's get this straight - it's not about testing," Frazier said. "Once you test it's one thing, but you still have to react if the individual has the virus or not. And here's the bottom line: We don't have a vaccine. So we can test til the cows come home, but we cannot prevent, cannot stabilize once an individual has COVID."
Frazier has been at the front of a push for moving football to the spring. He said this is because he's "had some people catch this and perish," but said for privacy he couldn't go into details.
"Yes, I was definitely out there the last two months in shifting in looking to a spring season," Frazier said. "That's really more about having some personal knowledge first-hand with my family with COVID, watching this disease, watching this virus, and saying you know what, I'm a father. I'm not going to put my son in harm's way. I'm certainly not going to put the sons and daughters I serve out there."
He said NIU president Lisa Freeman was also a big advocate for the cancellation.
"First off, the MAC and the presidents and the ADs, that's where the leadership came from," Frazier said. "I'm biased toward my president. She's a scientist. She's a doctor. This is not new for her, her ability to understand the rate of what a virus is as well as her access to information. You've got to respect that. Give her that level of respect. She understands it. ... She's legit. She gets it. It's always been about health and safety to her from Day 1."
Frazier said it was all about safety
"You're talking about taking opportunities away from young people," Frazier said. "They want to compete. They want to do what they do and come in and be a part of that experience. COVID has damaged the way we do business worldwide. ... For us to dismiss the science and dismiss what's going on would be irresponsible in my leadership.
"Football has given me all my opportunities, but I can't do that at the expense of people's lives. And I won't do that. Not on my watch."