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SBU football, other sports postponed

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SBU’s Curtis Cuillard reels in a pass during the Bearcats’ 2019 homecoming game against Quincy University. 

Southwest Baptist University’s football, soccer and volleyball seasons, all originally scheduled to start this fall, will now take place in the spring due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The change was announced last month for all schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, following a vote by the GLVC’s council of presidents, according to a conference news release. 

“The decision was made based on guidance from the league’s athletics directors and an extensive review of the recommended testing and safety measures developed by the NCAA Sport Science Institute,” the release stated. 

Football, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball will have regular-season competition and GLVC championships conducted in the second semester, the release stated, while men’s and women’s cross country will still be permitted to compete this fall. The 2020 GLVC Cross Country Championship is slated for Saturday, Oct. 24. 

SBU athletics director Mike Pitts told the BH-FP he reacted mostly with relief when he heard the news. The delay means SBU’s coaches and administration have more time to get a grip on what will need to be done, he said. 

“At least now we have some direction and a place where we can start planning,” he said. 

Pitts said he’d been nervous about trying to play everything in the fall. 

“I thought there was a good chance that our teams might have their season disrupted,” he said. “By moving to the spring, it gives us a better chance to give our student athletes more of a meaningful experience.”

SBU football coach Robert Clardy, women’s soccer coach Stefan Skillman, men's soccer coach Patrick Daum and athletics media relations director Spencer Greathouse did not return requests for comment.

SBU volleyball coach James Hanger told the BH-FP Friday, July 31, the decision to move many sports to the spring rather than allow a modified version of their normal schedules creates opportunities and challenges. 

“The volleyball team is thankful to have the opportunity to play at any time of the year,” he said. “SBU volleyball has five seniors, and I sincerely hope we can celebrate their commitment and contributions to the team on senior night in the future.” 

Hanger said he’s concerned over how schools will balance new spring dates for fall sports, in addition to preexisting dates for spring sports. 

“Many details are coordinated and executed to host a single sporting event on campus,” he said. “To synchronize multiple events per week and sustain that for an entire spring season of competition is going to be a new challenge like we have never seen before in college athletics."

According to the release, men’s and women’s golf and tennis will also be allowed to compete in their non-championship segments in the fall and continue their seasons into the spring when their respective championship seasons begin. 

Several winter sports, including indoor track and field, are set to begin their seasons by September, the release stated. 

According to the release, the GLVC established Thursday, Oct. 1, as the deadline to determine the competition start date for men’s and women’s basketball and wrestling. 

Though they take place in the spring, baseball and softball are also affected by the changes, the release stated, with teams permitted only to have intrasquad competition on campus in the fall.

According to the release, the distinction between the sports stems from sport classifications put forth by the NCAA Sport Science Institute, based on a consensus by the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine COVID-19 Working Group. 

“Bowling, golf, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field were classified as low contact risk sports, while baseball, cross country and softball were deemed medium contact risk,” the release stated. “The NCAA believes low and medium contact risk sports can successfully implement physical distancing and universal masking practices during all sport activities. However, the level of risk in cross country and track and field are dependent upon the student-athlete’s proximity to other unmasked individuals.”

According to the release, basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball and wrestling have all been classified as high risk sports by the NCAA, meaning it's deemed those safety practices highly unlikely. 

“The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, fans and those in our campus communities has been, and will continue to be, paramount throughout these unprecedented times,” council chair and University of Indianapolis president Robert Manuel said in the release. 

Pitts said the issue has been tricky to navigate. He said he meets almost every day with either the NCAA, the GLVC, the key administrators of SBU or key members of the department of athletics — all working together to make sure the Bearcats have a chance to safely compete. 

What has stood out to me for months is that there is so much about this situation that is completely out of our control,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts to this. We are all trying to look ahead into a pretty fuzzy path, but we are doing our best.”

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