Matt Zimmer, Sioux Falls Argus Leader Published 3:56 p.m. CT Aug. 5, 2020 | Updated 4:33 p.m. CT Aug. 5, 2020
Augustana and USF won’t be able to play for a Division II championship after the NCAA decided Wednesday that there will be no postseason in D-II and D-III. (Photo: Sam Caravana / Argus Leader)
There will be no Division II or Division III sports championships this fall.
As for Division I, the NCAA keeps on kicking the can down the road.
After a full afternoon of meetings on Tuesday in which the fate of fall college sports championships were supposed to be determined, the NCAA Board of Governors waited until Wednesday morning to announce they’d be leaving the decisions up to each Division, and that those decisions must be made by Aug. 21.
Several college football teams around the country have already begun practice, yet the Board of Governors, the NCAA’s highest ruling committee, punted on providing college football coaches and athletes with clarity on their immediate futures.
Non-scholarship Division III wasted no time in canceling fall sports championships. Not moving them to spring – canceled. Hours later, Division II did the same. No playoffs or postseason meets for football, volleyball, soccer or cross country.
It wasn’t immediately clear if that means Augustana, USF, Northern State and other members of the NSIC and other Division II leagues will cancel their fall sports seasons entirely or if they will forge ahead with a modified season of some kind.
SDSU and USD are still in limbo, awaiting word on a 2020 college football season. (Photo: Briana Sanchez / Argus Leader)
Meanwhile in Division I, the 24-member Board of Directors deferred to the 40-member Division I Council to provide recommendations on the future of fall championships.
But there’s one sticking point that supersedes any committee: If fewer than 50 percent of member institutions in any division go forward with their fall season, there will be no fall championships in that sport.
So member schools have until Aug. 21 to determine if they’re in or out. A handful of Division I football teams are scheduled to play Aug. 29.
The Football Oversight committee meets Thursday and is expected to make a recommendation to the Division I Council before it convenes next week. Multiple plans for FCS could be in place.
While the Board of Governors’ decision to pass the buck drew its share of teeth-gnashing across the college sports world on Wednesday, South Dakota State football coach John Stiegelmeier interpreted it as good news.
“I think they gave us some direction in terms of we’re going to decide our own fate,” Stiegelmeier said. “I assume (the Missouri Valley Football Conference) will try to play all the games we can, in our conference at least.”
Indeed, the Valley has committed to a season, and Stiegelmeier is optimistic the FCS will meet the 50 percent threshold to hold a postseason tournament. There are 127 teams in FCS, but the Ivy League doesn’t participate in the postseason and a handful of others are currently ineligible. Presumably those schools wouldn’t be counted toward the 50-percent requirement. The NCAA’s ruling would allow for a truncated playoffs if necessary.
SDSU and USD are still in limbo, awaiting word on a 2020 college football season. (Photo: Abigail Dollins / Argus Leader)
So far, the Southwest Athletic Conference, Patriot League, Northeast Conference, Mideast Athletic Conference and Colonial Athletic Association have all opted out of a fall season, though a few individual schools in FCS have made decisions independent of their conference (some to play, some not to). The Valley, Big Sky, Big South, Ohio Valley, Southern Conference, Southland and Pioneer League are all still open to playing. They must make a final decision by Aug. 21, though one is expected sooner than that.
It’s the same scenario for Division II, where the East Coast Conference, Commonwealth Coast Conference and Northeast Athletic Conference have already canceled their football seasons. To have a postseason championship would require 82 of 163 Division II teams to play this fall.
The NCAA Board of Governors also issued a list of requirements that must be met by member schools to sponsor fall sports. Those include allowing all student-athletes the option to opt out of participation without losing their scholarship, and a mandate that schools may not require athletes to waive their legal rights as a condition of participation.
The NCAA will establish a phone number and email to allow athletes, parents or others to report alleged failures in adhering to COVID-19 protocols, and schools must cover COVID-19 related medical expenses for student-athletes to prevent out-of-pocket costs for them and their families.
“The first and most important consideration is whether sports can be conducted safely for college athletes,” said Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and University of California system president. “Each division must examine whether it has the resources available to take the required precautions given the spread of COVID-19.”
The board based its requirements on guidance from the NCAA’s COVID-19 Advisory Panel, established in March and comprising leading medical, public health and epidemiology experts. The panel will continue to closely monitor the pandemic and its impact on higher education and college sports and to provide any recommended changes to the requirements.
“Our decisions place emphasis where it belongs — on the health and safety of college athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “Student-athletes should never feel pressured into playing their sport if they do not believe it is safe to do so. These policies ensure they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about playing this fall.”
Emmert also emphasized the need for each division to conduct a careful evaluation of the viability of fall championships. He acknowledged that each division is unique.
“First and foremost, we need to make sure we provide a safe environment for college athletes to compete for an opportunity to play in NCAA championships,” Emmert said. “A decision based on the realities in each division will provide clarity for conferences and campuses as they determine how to safely begin the academic year and the return to sports.”
Unlike FCS, Division II and Division III, the NCAA doesn’t control the FBS postseason. Connecticut became the first of the 130 bowl-eligible teams to cancel its football season earlier this week. Most major conferences are moving forward with a fall season, though most have added scheduling restrictions of some kind.
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