CARBONDALE — Instead of announcing a change to the 2020-21 fall championships Wednesday, the NCAA Board of Governors announced it was directing its three divisions to make the decision for it in a morning news release.
The Board of Governors, the highest ruling committee at the NCAA, essentially punted for the second time in the last two weeks after meeting Tuesday night. The board directed schools and conferences to meet specific safety requirements in order to compete this school year, with the coronavirus pandemic spiking in several states over the last week, and its three divisions to come up with a plan for the fall championships by Aug. 21. The 24-member Division I Board of Directors deferred to the 40-member Division I Council to provide recommendations for the future of the fall championships.
SIU's football team is scheduled to play at Kansas, a Big 12 Conference program, just eight days after Aug. 21, on Aug. 29, in Lawrence. The Salukis began practicing July 31 in the hopes of playing a full 2020 schedule. The Kansas game carries a $300,000 guarantee. The Missouri Valley Football Conference has not commented on Wednesday's announcement, but has been very vocal about its intention of competing this fall despite the pandemic.
Five teams in the MVFC (North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, Illinois State and SIU) are ranked in the top 25 in most major preseason polls. NDSU is the three-time defending national champion, ranked No. 1 in every major poll that has come out, and returns NFL prospect Trey Lance at quarterback. Lance became the first freshman or redshirt freshman to ever win the Walter Payton Award last year.
"The first and most important consideration is whether sports can be conducted safely for college athletes," said Michael V. Drake, the chair of the board of governors and the 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."
Unlike the NCAA Board of Governors, which is comprised almost entirely of university presidents and chancellors, the Division I Council is made up of almost all athletic directors. All 32 Division I conferences have at least one representative, along with four league commissioners, two student-athletes and two faculty athletics representatives. MVFC Commissioner Patty Viverito represents Valley Football, and Northern Iowa athletic director David Harris represents the Missouri Valley Conference.
Justin Sell, the athletic director at South Dakota State, represents the Summit League. The chair of the Division I Council, M. Grace Calhoun, was the athletic director at Loyola before moving on to Penn.
The board of governors gave the three NCAA Divisions (I, II and III) requirements in order to play this fall if they decided to. All sports teams that compete in the fall, during the preseason, regular season and postseason, must follow the return-to-sport guidelines the NCAA issued earlier this summer, as well as all federal, state and local safety guidelines related to COVID-19.
The Division III Presidents Council announced Wednesday it would cancel its fall sports championships, noting the administrative costs and logistical requirements. Division II followed shortly after that.
Here are some of the requirements the board of governors issued for teams to play this fall:
• All student-athletes must be allowed to opt out of playing this fall due to concerns about the virus, which has killed more than 150,000 people in the United States alone. Those that opt out must have their scholarships honored by their college or university.
• Student-athletes can't be required to sign away their legal rights regarding COVID-19 in order to play.
• Member schools, in conjunction with current insurance standards, must cover COVID-19-related medical expenses for athletes to prevent out-of-pocket expenses for them and their families.
• NCAA championships may used reduced bracketing, less competitors than normally required by the association, and predetermined sites to limit exposure to the virus. They also may use a single site where appropriate, such as the NBA using Orlando as its sole home base. This also means the board of directors could allow the FCS playoffs to go on with less than 24 teams.
• If 50% or more of eligible teams in a particular sport or division cancel their fall season, there will be no fall championship in that sport for that division. Out of 127 FCS programs this year, 54 have already opted out of competing this fall. If 10 more opt out, no matter what league they play in, that will be it for an FCS playoff in 2020-21 unless they move it to the spring. The association left open the possibility to move any of the fall sports to the spring, saying "if fall sports championships are postponed in any division, a decision to conduct that championship at a later date will be based upon the scientific data available at that time regarding COVID-19, along with other considerations."
The board of governors doesn't control the 10 FBS leagues or the College Football Playoff. All 10 leagues, so far, intend to compete in some fashion this fall, whether with conference-only games like the Big 10, or with some conference games and some non-conference games.
Six different FCS leagues have already called off football in the fall, the CAA, Ivy League, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot League and the SWAC. All have left open the possibility of playing football in the spring if conditions improve. University presidents from the MVFC and the Ohio Valley Conference are expected to meet later this week to discuss their plans moving forward, according to Stats Perform writer Craig Haley. The MVFC's Media Day is scheduled for Aug. 10.
The Missouri Valley Conference, which the Salukis are a part of, pushed back its fall practice schedules and its 2020-21 start dates for its sponsored sports in July because of the coronavirus. League cross country, golf, tennis and volleyball teams can't begin practicing until Aug. 17 and can't begin competing until Sept. 18, according to a news release from the MVC. The Valley is also having men's and women's soccer and volleyball teams only play conference matches in 2020.
The MVC hasn't made any changes to the league's men's and women's basketball schedules.
On Twitter: @THefferman
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