NAIA releases fall sports plans

Staff Writer
Syracuse Journal-Democrat
The NAIA national office, in partnership with leaders of the association, released its plans for the fall season on Thursday, June 4.

The NAIA national office, in partnership with leaders of the association, released its plans for the fall season last Thursday afternoon (June 4).

The NAIA noted its plan was guided first and foremost for the health and safety of the student-athletes. The second priority of the NAIA was to help its member institutions to plan for a return to campus and for a successful fall term.

Originally, the NAIA had planned on releasing its plans on July 1. However, after much input from the member institutions and conferences, the NAIA announced its plans earlier in order to allow schools to make plans.

The following are the national recommendations made by the Council of Presidents (COP) Executive Committee:

1.  Return to Play Threshold
The COP Executive Committee approved the use of a threshold system as a guideline for determining return to play. The threshold goal is for about half the participating institutions in each sport to receive clearance from local authorities to return to competition before the season can begin. For example, NAIA football has 95 participating institutions. When half (47) of these programs gain clearance from authorities to play, the NAIA football season will be authorized to begin.

The rationale for this decision is that a significant number of institutions need to participate to offer student-athletes a significant competitive and championship-caliber experience. Additionally, the fewer the number of participating programs, the higher the likelihood for scheduling challenges leading to increased travel costs and missed class time.

2.  Start Dates
Based on input from NAIA presidents, Athletic Directors, commissioners, athletics trainers and health care professionals, the COP Executive Committee approved a recommendation of practice and competition start dates for each sport. The practice start date for all sports, will be Saturday, August 15. As a result, from today through August 14, any activities deemed practice by the NAIA are strictly prohibited.

Beginning on August 15, student-athletes may practice consistent with any health and safety protocols your institution deems necessary. While practices can begin August 15, only individuals identified with member institutions can participate in these practices. No scrimmages, exhibitions, or competitions of any kind that involve individuals not identified with a member institution may take place prior to the competition start date listed below.

Competition start dates are as follows:

All sports except football: September 5 (providing 3 weeks of practice prior to competition)

Football: September 12 (providing 4 weeks of practice prior to competition)

These start dates apply to all sports that schedule practices or competitions in the fall, regardless of when the regular season is played.

The rationale behind the selection of those dates was to provide an adequate acclimatization, conditioning and practice period prior to competition for each sport, while minimizing the need for student-athletes to return to campus early. Establishing start dates also creates a more level playing field for all institutions that are able to compete this fall.

3.   Maximum Contests Allowed
With the delayed start dates, there are fewer weeks to complete the season. As a result, the COP Executive Committee approved a reduction in the maximum number of contests as follows:

Cross Country: 7 meets, down from 8

Football: 9 games, down from 11

Men's and Women's Soccer: 14 games, down from 18

Women's Volleyball: 22 dates, down from 28

The reductions are proportional to the shortened seasons and are consistent with recent feedback from presidents, athletics directors, and commissioners expressing a desire to reduce regular season costs.

Currently, the NAIA intends to host all fall national championship events as currently scheduled. Obviously the NAIA cannot predict what will happen in the next six months, but they are optimistic that the championships will be hosted as planned.

The national office and the COP Executive Committee are currently examining various options for health and safety protocols, including testing and screening, and will share decisions related to these areas as soon as they are made.

While the NAIA focus was initially on fall sports, they know there are already concerns related to the winter sport season. At this time, there are no planned changes for winter sports. The NAIA will begin to evaluate the possible impact of COVID-19 on the winter season and prioritize any decisions that will help our institutions prepare for possible adjustments, if necessary.  

How Does This Affect the Peru State Bobcats?

Peru State offers four fall sports teams – football, volleyball, women's cross country, and men's cross country.

While it is not totally official, it is anticipated that the first two football games of Aug. 29 at Missouri Valley and the Sept. 5 home opener with Evangel (Mo.) will be dropped. The Heart of America Athletic Conference (Heart) COP and Board of Governors will be meeting soon to finalize that plan.

If that is the case, Peru State's first home football game will be Sept. 12 at Benedictine in Atchison, Kan., at 1 p.m. The Bobcats' first home contest would then be Sept. 19 against MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.). The game time initially had been set for 6 p.m., but could change with the new schedule. That weekend, Sept. 18 and 19, is scheduled as Peru State's Hall of Fame weekend.

The Bobcat volleyball coaches were already working on rearranging their schedule following Thursday's announcements. Initially, Peru State was to open its schedule on the road facing the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, Kan., on Aug. 27. Additionally, they were to have played several additional contests prior to the new Sept. 5 start date. As soon as a new schedule is finalized, it will be posted on the College's website.

The cross country schedule had not been finalized as of yet, but it will align with the new guidelines.

Peru State athletic director Wayne Albury was not totally surprised by the announcement, but was pleased that it was made earlier, than later planned. Albury noted, "Having been in many discussions with the Heart officials and with Dr. Hanson, this does not come as a big surprise. We will make the necessary adjustments and are just happy that the NAIA is giving more time to make the plans."