While Minnesota Crookston prepares for fall sports, it awaits major decisions
On July 10, NSIC commissioner Erin Lind was trying to forge ahead.
“There are leagues across the country that are deciding to pump the brakes on the fall already and we’re just not to that place yet,” Lind told The Forum. “We’re still making positive strides and feeling pretty good about things.”
Many other conferences aren’t.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 have announced they will only have conference competition in the fall — if that. The Ivy League, Patriot League, Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, among others, have removed the if and cancelled fall sports entirely.
The trends don’t inspire optimism. But the process has been drawn out, powered by decisions by individual schools and leagues who all seem to be following each other's lead. That doesn’t appear to be changing soon.
What this speaks to, more than anything else, is a lack of uniformity, and the issues that result from having multiple governing bodies. In an interview with the Times last week, Minnesota Crookston chancellor Mary Holz-Clause compared the situation to the federal, state and local government, all of whom have degrees of power over whether college sports can be played safely.
UMC men’s basketball coach Dan Weisse wishes the most powerful of them would take initiative.
“Obviously, if (the NSIC) does something, if we wanna compete in championships, we gotta have a uniform deal,” he said. “Our league can’t change if others don’t change. I think other leagues are just looking around to see what’s going on, but hopefully the NCAA can just make a decision for us.”
Right now, UMC and the NSIC as a whole can only watch and learn from the actions of other schools and conferences as they determine what is feasible in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NSIC’s athletic directors and school presidents will meet next week to work things out, but the only way to describe the situation right now is fluid.
“We’re just trying to go day-by-day planning here,” said UMC athletic director Stephanie Helgeson. “Being prepared and just having all our procedures and protocols in place until we hear something different.”
Helgeson expects to hear something by the first week of August, at the latest. That’s around the time when Golden Eagle athletes could be returning to campus. She just doesn’t know where it will come from.
“It could be NSIC, it could be Division II, it could be institutional,” Helgeson said. “It all depends on where things lie. We’re working with a lot of different entities … but we’re doing whatever we can to get back to campus.”
For that to happen, uniformity is perhaps the most important factor. Any plan to bring college sports back this fall will need to be safe and streamlined, giving schools and leagues clear guidelines and ensuring that these guidelines are universal.
Conference-only play, at the very least, gets rid of the vast majority of moving parts.
While the NSIC is a huge conference, spanning five states and including 16 teams, it has known for longer than most that it would only be playing conference games, if that. In May, the Division II Presidents’ Council lowered the maximum number of games teams could play — 22 for men’s and women’s basketball, 20 for volleyball, 14 for soccer.
This corresponds with the number of conference games NSIC teams play in normal years, so the league went with conference schedules to eliminate any guesswork then and there.
As far as specific guidelines, on Thursday, the NCAA Sport Science Institute released its latest set of guidelines on how sports can be played safely. Helgeson said that Minnesota Crookston will follow these protocols on its own campus.
The school has also been preparing to implement whatever protocols are necessary. Helgeson said that Steven Krouse, UMC’s head athletic trainer and director of sports medicine, has worked extensively with the the Sport Science Institute, the Center for Disease Control, the state and county health departments and the larger University of Minnesota system in coming up with plans.
Krouse has also held Zoom meetings with student-athletes in all sports to brief them on what will be expected of them on campus: a 14-day quarantine upon arrival, educational meetings with staff, daily screenings before any athletic activity, temperature checks every morning and any activities limited to 25 people or less.
UMC is also working on its attendance policy at games.
To make a long story short, Minnesota Crookston is forging ahead, just as the NSIC is. But many other dominoes have yet to fall, which Holz-Clause, Helgeson and the rest of the UMC administration are aware of. For now, the emphasis is on controlling what can be controlled.
“Ultimately it comes down to the personal responsibility of everybody,” Holz-Clause said. “If you’re not assuming that personal responsibility, you can have some really significant impacts on your team and your league.
“Not only is it incumbent on our athletes, but all of us, to think of others through this pandemic and get through it.”
Cases and deaths are still rising in many parts of the country. More conferences will cancel in the coming weeks. The NSIC may or may not become one of them.
But until the NCAA, or any other body with the power to decide, makes a definitive decision, there’s really only so much anyone in college athletics can count on.
“Every time I talk to my guys, I say what’s going on now, but that things can change,” Weisse said. “So just stay ready.”
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