NAIA provides guidance for start of fall sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Last Thursday, the NAIA announced a delayed start to the Fall sports practice and regular-season calendar, which will impact the 2020 men’s and women’s soccer schedule for the LSUA Generals.

“While certainly not ideal to see restrictions on the timeframe for our student-athletes to return to the field and begin the upcoming season, I do applaud the administration of the national office for working diligently over the last several seeks to solicit information from member campuses and develop a plan,” said LSUA Director of Athletics Adam Jonson. “We now know our marching orders and can move forward with making appropriate preparations.”

The Generals would have reported for Fall camp on the weekend of August 1 with regular season scrimmages beginning August 12. A new date for the start of pre-season camp has not yet been set, and regular-season play cannot begin until September 5.

Originally scheduled to make an announcement regarding Fall sports nearer a July 1 target date, NAIA administrators solicited input from presidents, athletic directors, conference commissioners and athletic trainers from across the country. Through those conversations and surveys, the policies and guidelines for return to play were able to be developed more quickly than originally anticipated.

“The NAIA national office, in partnership with leaders of the association, continues to plan for the fall season,” said Jim Carr, NAIA President/CEO, and Dr. Arvid Johnson, NAIA Council of Presidents Chair, in an email sent to all NAIA institutions. “Our work is guided first and foremost by the health and safety of your students. Our second priority is to serve our member institutions as you plan for a return to campus and a successful fall term.”

The Council of Presidents (COP) Executive Committee met last Wednesday, and the following national office recommendations were approved:

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, AD’s, commissioners, athletics trainers and health care professionals, the COP Executive Committee approved the 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.

We know many NAIA campuses may be engaging in conditioning activities now or plan to as we get closer to August 15. These conditioning activities, as long as they are not “practices”, are not restricted and can take place at any time, in keeping with any institutional guidelines.

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 your institution can participate in these practices. No scrimmages, exhibitions, or competitions of any kind that involve individuals not identified with your 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)

Please note: 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 these dates is 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 we cannot predict what will happen in the next six months, but we are optimistic that the championships will be hosted as planned.

Finally, we know the health and safety of our student-athletes is imperative if we are to host fall sports. 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 our focus is currently on fall sports, we know there are already concerns related to the winter sport season. At this time, there are no planned changes for winter sports. We 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.  

We hope this information provides guidance to help you plan accordingly for fall athletics. There is no precedent regarding athletics during a pandemic, so we must all be guided by what is best for the greater good of our members and our student-athletes. The COP Executive Committee is meeting weekly in June and we will continue to share decisions as they are made.