The National Collegiate Athletic Association recently announced that they would be moving their fall and winter championships to Spring 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that some colleges, including SIUE, will be holding competitions for every sport at once. This has led to unprecedented changes.
Director of Athletics Tim Hall said although the championships will take place next semester, there are still many events that have yet to be scheduled. Hall said most likely, student-athletes will come back in January, most competitions will start in February and they will end around April and May.
“The NCAA gives you a start date, and the conclusion date is when the national championships begin. The [individual] conferences set the schedule, [and] we compete in a lot of different conferences. None of [these conferences’ schedules] are really set-in-stone,” Hall said. “There are working groups, for sports like basketball and football and other sports. We’re working as administrators and coaches in terms of what would be the best scheduling model for the spring sports.”
The various conferences involved have begun setting up their schedules, but Assistant Athletics Director for High Performance Mark Jamison said there is still much to be done.
“The [Ohio Valley Conference], which is where a lot of our sports compete, hasn’t gotten a lot of their stuff set. They’ve worked on basketball, but nothing has been finalized, so we don’t know yet,” Jamison said.
Although changing the schedule yet again would be difficult, Volleyball Head Coach Kendall Paulus said it all depends on the progress made toward beating COVID-19. Paulus said she, the volleyball team and the rest of SIUE’s fall sports were originally unsure if they would be allowed to play a season this year.
“We’re hopeful. We have our eyes on January, and we’re planning for that. But it also matters with how numbers look and student-athletes safety, but we’re training for January,” Paulus said. “If we can see someone on the other side of the net next spring, our seniors will feel good and we’ll be good. The team wants to see how their hard work will pay off, and so do I.”
Even though conferences and competitions will be happening next semester, Jamison said there are some SIUE-specific decisions that have to be made before conferences and competitions begin next semester.
“We’ve been planning a lot, logistically. We don’t know if there will be fans in here for the upcoming things. In terms of game day operations and facilities, we don’t know what we’ll need for work in order to keep it as close to normal as possible,” Jamison said.
According to Hall, this new schedule will lead to some new problems, one of which involves scholarship money for student athletes returning for a final season. The NCAA stated in March that any student who was unable to play due to the COVID-19 pandemic could return and play in the next season.
“We need to find scholarship money for students with that additional year of competing. You can’t do more with less [in terms of money], you have to prioritize,” Hall said. “Priorities mean figuring out what needs to be done first. When we make decisions along these lines, that means we have to reallocate resources instead of spending that money on other things we want to do. In our priorities, [scholarships are] what we need to get to first.”
Paulus said the NCAA’s offer to students was thoughtful, but she fears some students will have to decline it.
“A lot of seniors are uncertain if they still will get their final year, especially if we have this last semester canceled like the one in the past. To think of coming back in the next fall for another season throws a wrench into a lot of plans, and we’re just going to wait and help [seniors] in that choice,” Paulus said. “We want them to end on a good season, but some of them might be ready to start going off into the professional world and continue on their path, or have internships lined up.”
If the COVID-19 response stays as is, Hall said the spring will go ahead with all 16 of SIUE’s sports competing at once. This has led to some unique problems, according to Hall.
“One new issue is … we will have a significant percentage of all athletes traveling at the same time. When we travel, you usually don’t have more than three teams on the road at any one time because of how the schedule is broken up, but condensing a whole year into one semester is going to be challenging because we only own three buses. We’ll have seven or eight teams traveling at once, so we’ll need charter buses,” Hall said. “It’s not just that way here, it’s that way at every Division I school.”