BY MAKENNA ALLEN
After months of confusion brought about by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the announcements of schedules for Fort Hays State University’s sports are being finalized.
Ever since the NCAA’s decision to suspend all winter and spring athletic events in March, the world of college athletics has been reeling. As teams came to a grinding halt in both practice and competition, many conferences were unsure if their sports would even see any fall events. However, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association has been at work with its member schools to create viable schedules for the fast-approaching fall seasons.
Last week, FHSU Athletics released information regarding many sports ranging from women’s and men’s basketball to baseball and tennis. Also on the list of schedules released were those for fall sports including football, women’s soccer and volleyball.
The first sport to release its plan for the season on June 16 was FHSU football. For this sport, the MIAA has adopted a new conference-wide format in which the season for all schools begins Sept.12. For the Tigers, their first game will take place at home against Lincoln University.
Under this new format, each team in the conference will play 10 games. To cut down schedules, one opponent was removed by random draw from every team’s schedule. For FHSU, this means the Tigers will not face Missouri Southern State University in regular-season play.
Aside from this shift, as well as the delayed start to the season, the official FHSU schedule will remain similar to the original. Even homecoming, during which the University of Central Missouri travels to Hays, will remain on the calendar for Oct. 3. Now that the team’s plan has been finalized, FHSU football will look toward making its third playoff appearance in four years.
Unlike the reduction seen in the football schedule, the women’s soccer program will compete in all 11 of its standard conference games. However, the team’s schedule has still been altered from its original 18-game format. This season, the Tigers will instead play a total of 13 matches.
This format allows for two non-conference games. FHSU has selected these games for the first two weeks of the season. According to the team’s schedule, the Tigers will play Emporia State University on either Sept. 11 or 13 and Nebraska-Kearney on either Sept. 18 or 20.
According to head coach Blake Reynolds, these changes will most impact the team by limiting the possibilities for the women to unite as a group.
“The biggest change for us, specifically, is that we likely won’t have any normal preseason before the general student body arrives, which means no two-a-days where we get time to bond as a team,” Reynolds said. “This is the most important part of being a fall sport as we don’t get months to prepare. We get a couple of weeks.”
Nevertheless, Reynolds is thankful that amid the chaotic changes within the NCAA and MIAA, his team is able to have a season at all.
“While I wish we could play more games, there are conferences in the country that have already called off their fall seasons,” Reynolds said. “Similarly with COVID-19, we are unsure of what the impact of returning to campus, with student-athletes and a general student body coming from all over the world, will be like on the campus community as a whole. Meaning, will we be safe? Will we even have a season?”
Ultimately for Reynolds, the fall season is about perspective.
“When you look at it from that perspective, I would happily take 13 games, as it means we must be generally safe if we are still able to play,” he said.
The women’s soccer team begins its MIAA season Sept. 25 against Washburn University in Hays. The team looks to achieve at least 10 wins for the fourth straight season, and will play seven of its first eight matches of the season at home. That leaves the team on the road for the final five regular-season matches.
Though both football and women’s soccer schedules have received some measure of finality, the FHSU volleyball schedule has yet to be finalized. At this time, the Tigers do know their season playing dates, rather than individual matches, will be capped at 20-dates.
Currently, FHSU’s volleyball season is set to begin Sept. 18 against Washburn University. However, the MIAA has noted on all schedules that these dates are subject to change and that the universities have the ability to consolidate match dates if needed to remain under the 20-date limit.
As more schedules become available and FHSU’s fall athletics lineup begins to take shape, it becomes clear no sport will remain untouched. However, FHSU Athletic Director Curtis Hammeke noted each sport will be impacted differently.
“The reduction in schedules nationwide will affect everyone differently and provide varying levels of budgetary relief,” Hammeke said. “Those who lost a home game in football, for example, won’t benefit from the reduction, but those who lost an away game will. But in order to implement these types of reductions at the national level with a broad brush, it’s going to benefit some more than others.”
According to Hammeke, the situation was a “catch 22” in which the conference had to balance the opportunities of student-athletes with the budgetary restrictions that are the after-effects of the pandemic.
Along these lines, the school must consider the financial impacts of potential decreases in revenue from lost fans this season.
“We don’t know yet what crowds will look like and what type of reduction to anticipate related to ticket sales, concessions, etc.,” Hammeke said.
No matter how the final outcome of the decision-making process looks for Tiger Athletics, Hammeke stresses the result is about strong collaboration.
“We will need to work together as a staff to make the best of a challenging situation,” Hammeke said.
The Athletics Department will continue to work together as the school releases schedules for winter and spring sports. The department’s website will be updated with schedules as they are released.