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Students move out of their dorm at the University of Michigan on March 17, 2020 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.Gregory Shamus | Getty Images

Hotels near college campuses are looking to students to fill vacant rooms as the coronavirus pandemic casts uncertainty over the fall semester and demand from travelers remains depressed.

From Syracuse, New York, to Bloomington, Indiana, hotels are becoming an option for students whose families are looking for an alternative to dorm or off-campus housing this fall. Although the option is likely to be pricier than typical on-campus housing, it may alleviate some concerns by offering a less crowded and cleaner environment. That may be welcome as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the U.S. and spikes in cases among sports teams and young adults fan fears about what happens when students return.

Around 12 students have already signed up to stay at the Hotel at the University of Maryland and Cambria College Park, said Jeff Brainard, vice president of sales and marketing for Southern Management Corporation, which owns both hotels near the Maryland campus. He said they are expecting that number to change as the school year comes closer.

Brainard said the hotels don't see themselves as a competitor to dorms or apartments, but rather a more flexible living arrangement that, while costing more, may bring peace of mind to families given the hotels' commitments to sanitation.

Students are locked into living in the hotel for at least 60 days, he said. They can then can opt to stay an additional 30 days, but if they need to leave partway through that period, they won't be charged after the day they check out.

'People want to come back'

"It's been really encouraging to talk to the parents and families because as nervous as everybody is, people want to come back," Brainard said. "But it's a totally different environment than it's been in the past. So the enthusiasm to return is tempered with 'What's it going to look like when we get there?'"

The cost varies depending on which hotel, the length of the stay and the frequency of services such as cleaning, but the cost to students, though charged daily, would likely come out to somewhere between $1,700 and $2,000 per month, according to Brainard. Depending on how long students live in hotels, they may be exempt from certain taxes in accordance with state and local laws on long-term stays.

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Hotel operators say another draw to their properties is that the students are not locked into long-term leases.

Some colleges have reversed course over the past month, reverting from plans to offer in-person coursework to mostly remote, suggesting that students could arrive on campus only to be sent home if cases spike. Many schools have opted for a calendar that ends in-person instruction after Thanksgiving.

The availability of dormitory housing also may be an issue, as some schools have announced plans to reduce the number of students allowed in dorms.

Families also have noted the cleanliness a hotel offers through routine cleaning and sanitation that may not happen when students are left to their own devices, and without sacrificing living close to campus, said Eric Hassberger, president of AJ Capital Partners, which owns The Graduate Hotels chain.

The Graduate chain has booked students to stay in their hotels in Bloomington, Dallas, Minneapolis, Iowa City and New Haven, Connecticut. Students have options for length of stay, cleaning frequency and included meals. Pricing varies depending on the options and market, but the company said it could cost about $100 per night.

Scholar Hotel Group, which has hotels in Syracuse and State College, where Pennsylvania State University is located, has offered either a daily rate or a discounted monthly rate for students, according to Gary Brandeis, president and founder of the chain. At the Syracuse hotel, the cost is $1,650 for one month, but falls to $1,550 per month for a 3-month term or to  $1,350 per month for six. 

Brandeis said the rate isn't as high as what they would normally get from guests, but they feel like they are providing a service to the community by offering another option and it also helps them keep some revenue coming in. Hotels, like other college town businesses, can no longer look to fall staples like move-in weekends or game days to drive revenue, he said, so they have to get creative in who they target.

"We're trying to be as flexible and creative as we can to bring as much business into the hotel as we can because, frankly, the business that we would get if there wasn't a pandemic, it's just not there," Brandeis said. "This is a way for us to sort of rethink our business, re-look at the business opportunities and offer our product to a different customer set." 

A safety net 

Higher education has long been viewed as an equalizer for students coming from different backgrounds, and part of that involves eating in the same dining halls and living in shared spaces. A study from the Hope Center found 15% of students at four-year institutions surveyed in April and May were experiencing homelessness amid the pandemic.

Given the Covid-19 crisis, it is more important to ensure all students have housing, food and electricity than preserving shared spaces, said Anthony Abraham Jack, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of "The Privileged Poor."

Jack said students opting to live in hotels may have a positive effect, especially at schools that are planning to offer less housing or bring fewer students back to campus than in a normal year. Having the hotel option for students who can afford it, he said, leaves spaces in other housing open for students who have nowhere else to go.

"We have to suspend, in some respects, our beliefs that this incoming year will be one in which in-person community building is going to be the same," Jack said. "It's not, and so what I actually would want colleges to focus more on is how do we make sure that we provide students a safety net."

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NCAA Division II and III cancel fall championships over coronavirus, Division I football up to schools

By RALPH D. RUSSO

The announcements came within 40 minutes of each other Wednesday morning, one bleak, the other providing a glimmer of hope for a college football season that is looking iffy at best right now.

First, Connecticut canceled what was supposed to be its first season as a major college football independent because it could not endure the strains of the coronavirus pandemic.

Then the Big Ten unveiled the conference-only schedule it devised to withstand COVID-19 disruptions, with football games slated to kick off in a month.

Those two decisions epitomized the current state of college sports and help explain why the NCAA Board of Governors on Wednesday directed each division of the association to decide independently by Aug. 21 whether it will be able to safely conduct championship events in fall sports such as soccer and lower-division football.

NCAA President Mark Emmert told The Associated Press that whether college sports, and more specifically major college football, can play through the pandemic is likely to be determined not by the association or even conferences.

“It’s actually going to have to be each institution,” Emmert said. “You have to look at the huge variability around the country. When you look at what are the facts on the ground in Syracuse, New York, versus Miami, Florida, they’re very, very different. And those schools are going to have to operate consistent with their local municipal policies, their state policies, federal policies, and then also whatever they decide collectively in the conference.

“So it really isn’t the time where you can say we’re going to have one rule to govern all of football or all of any sport in that sense.”

Instead of making a broad decision across three divisions, the Board of Governors set parameters for each to make its own call.

Within hours of the board’s announcement, presidents councils from both Division II and III canceled fall sports championships and determined they will not be made up in the spring.

According to the board’s decision, at least 50% of teams competing in a fall sport in any division must conduct a regular season this fall for a championship to be held.

The board emphasized that all fall sports activity, whether it be preseason practices, regular-season games or postseason national championship tournaments, must follow the NCAA’s return-to-sport guidelines.

“What we did today with the board is we said, look, you have to meet these kinds of standards and you have to provide these kinds of opportunities and this kind of information to students to even move forward on this,” Emmert said.

The NCAA has little, if any, control over the highest tier of Division I football, where the Big Ten competes with the other Power Five conferences, the Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Pac-12.

Those leagues along with the five other FBS conferences have methodically put plans in place to play a season that will be worth billions in revenue — most of it landing in the Power Five.

The commissioners of those conferences talked a lot about collaboration, but in the end each league did what was in its best interest.

The NCAA’s main role has been to provide guidelines for how to attempt to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 as athletes return to campus, practice and ultimately competition.

The NCAA cannot stop regular-season competition. When the board considered pulling the plug on fall championships last month, conference leaders throughout all of Division I pushed back. There was even discussion among the most powerful conferences that they could stage their own championship events without the NCAA.

The pandemic has exposed college sports’ lack of clearly defined, top-down leadership, though Emmert said the current problems wouldn’t be easier to solve with a different structure.

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“We’re at a place where all of the answers to all of the questions are complicated because they are very complicated questions,” Emmert said. “And so I guess I understand people that say, ‘You know, somebody make a decision.’ And I would hope that those same people would recognize that I and my board are more than willing to make decisions. We did it in March (canceling the NCAA basketball tournament).

“This isn’t about any one person or any one group not wanting to take leadership. It’s about trying to find the right answer for our student-athletes and it’s complicated. And anybody that doesn’t recognize that is not paying attention.”

Around the same time the NCAA made its announcement Wednesday regarding fall championships and other issues related to COVID-19’s impact on college sports, a second players’ rights movement announced its formation.

#BigTenUnited joined the “ WeAreUnited” group of Pac-12 players in making an organized call for more transparency, oversight and monitoring of COVID-19 testing and standards.

The Big Ten players focused solely on COVID-19 protocols and targeted the NCAA more than their conference.

The NCAA’s directive addressed some of the issues raised by both groups, including retention of scholarships and eligibility if an athlete opts out of the coming season because of COVID-19 concerns.

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The NCAA is also setting up an email address and phone hot line to allow athletes, parents and others associated with college athletic departments to report “alleged failures” of COVID-19 protocols and guidelines.

“When we as players are united, our voices will be heard. These are important victories but players still don’t have any uniform, enforceable COVID standards to keep players safe,” Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs said in a statement released by #WeAreUnited.

Emmert said the burgeoning player movements were not discussed by the board and neither group has communicated with the NCAA.

“But that’s not to say that this wasn’t the result of a lot of conversations with students,” Emmert said.

Later in the day, the College Football Playoff put another piece to this jigsaw puzzle of season in place by announcing that the selection of the four teams to compete for the national title would be delayed two weeks to Dec. 20.

It was another sign of hope — coming not long after Louisville announced it had suspended team activities in men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey and volleyball after 29 athletes tested positive for COVID-19.

“There is no guarantee,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said on Big Ten Network, “that we’ll have fall sports or a football season.”

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