BY MAKENNA ALLEN
During the time of a public health crisis, no plans seem to be final, and the MIAA is no exception when it comes to adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just when it seemed schedules were finalized so athletes and fans could prepare for the season, the world of MIAA and FHSU Athletics turned upside-down once again.
The MIAA announced Monday it intends to delay the start of the fall athletic season until the week of Sept. 28. Additionally, student-athletes will not be able to resume practice until Aug. 31.
Ultimately, the decision stems from new information released last week by the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute. The release was a third installment of return-to-sport guidelines. According to NCAA President Mark Emmert, previous guidelines were not sufficient to protect students during the pandemic.
“This document lays out the advice of health care professionals as to how to resume college sports if we can achieve an environment where COVID-19 rates are manageable,” Emmert said in a July 16 press release. “Today, sadly, the data point in the wrong direction. If there is to be college sports in the fall, we need to get a much better handle on the pandemic.”
In response to the data, recommendations detailed in the revamped guidelines include daily self-health checks, appropriate use of face coverings, testing strategies for events, and testing and results to be made available within 72 hours of competing in high-contact sports.
According to FHSU Athletic Director Curtis Hammeke, the delay to the start of the season provides more time for the department to evaluate and administer these recommendations and guidelines.
“The delay in the start of practice and competition will allow institutions to review up-to-date guidelines with their medical personnel and administration before making final decisions pertaining the possibility of return to play,” Hammeke said.
For student-athletes such as junior track and cross country runner Abigail Stewart, the delay to the season was not shocking. Nor was it completely unwelcome, as it allows MIAA athletes to compete in at least some events throughout the fall.
“Even though the season is unfortunately shortened, I understand the need to be flexible and cautious with the changing situation, especially with the recent influx of COVID-19 cases across the nation,” Stewart said. “Even though the MIAA delayed the start of the cross-country season, I am glad that they are at least attempting to have a season this fall, rather than completely canceling the season as many other leagues have already done.”
The MIAA is not the only Division II conference looking to modify its 2020 fall season. Some conferences such as the CIAA and SAIC announced earlier this month that fall sports have been suspended entirely with the possibility of moving some events to the spring. Other conferences, such as the RMAC, have proposed similar delays to that of the MIAA.
Even as the MIAA evaluates this new course of action, it is important for administrators, coaches and student-athletes alike to recognize that no decision is final at this time. Rather, Hammeke suggested the new plan for the season allows the MIAA to explore its options.
“We are meeting with the appropriate personnel to determine our future and whether or not we’re able to compete safely,” Hammeke said. “As for schedules, if we were able to start late, we would pick up the schedule at the corresponding week of the current schedule.”
In other words, the recent MIAA decision means any games scheduled prior to the Sept. 28 date will not be played. All fall sports will lose the first two weeks of competition as schedules will not be reorganized. The only exception to this alteration is the FHSU men’s soccer program that is not a part of the MIAA conference and instead competes in the GAC.
As members of FHSU Athletics adapt to the changes, the key emphasis of preparing for the fall athletics season amid unprecedented times is flexibility for all participants. In Stewart’s case, that is something for which her entire career as an athlete has prepared her.
“Throughout my years of participating in sports at FHSU, Emporia High School and my childhood, I have learned that it is important to be flexible and to stay prepared for unexpected and unforeseen circumstances,” Stewart said.
Perhaps even more important for Stewart and her team is a positive outlook for the season.
“I think it is also important to ensure that teammates remain positive and motivated to continue training even though the fall season has been slightly altered,” Stewart said.