Coming off a Final Four appearance last season, Coach Hugh McCutcheon and his Gophers volleyball players were excited to start their allowable team practices this week. Whether they could still play this fall is still up in the air after the Big Ten announced plans Wednesday to start football in late October.
The other fall sports, such as women’s volleyball, still eyeing spring competition are left wondering what will happen to their previously postponed seasons.
Answers might come as soon as Thursday, according to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren.
“I as always will follow the guidance and advice of our athletic directors,” Warren said Wednesday on a Big Ten Network video news conference. “We felt from a logistical standpoint, from an operational standpoint that we needed to button down football because of the number of student-athletes there.
“We figured once we got that solved being able to apply those same policies, procedures and protocols with the other sports would be straightforward.”
The Big Ten postponed fall sports Aug. 11 with major safety concerns during the pandemic, but rapid testing options reviewed over the weekend by the Big Ten spearheaded the move toward allowing the football season to begin sooner.
More advanced COVID-19 daily testing for Big Ten athletes paid for by the league will be available Sept. 30.
“The daily testing will be conducted for all of our fall sports,” Warren said. “Which we thought was imperative for the health and safety of all of our student-athletes.”
The Division I Council approved proposals Wednesday on fall sports championships being moved to next spring, including women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross-country and field hockey.
The plans will be presented to the D-I Board of Directors next week to vote.
The proposed NCAA volleyball championships would be April 23-25, with a 48-team bracket down from 64. The regular season would be Jan. 22-April 10. But matches in the fall would count toward selection in the spring.
The ACC, Big 12 and SEC stuck to playing football this fall, which also meant their other fall sports would as well. The ACC’s volleyball season starts Thursday. The Big 12 revised its volleyball schedule for a conference-only season Sept. 24 through Nov. 21. The SEC will play an eight-match league-only schedule starting Oct. 16.
The Gophers volleyball season would’ve started Aug. 28, with the Big Ten season opening later this month. Uncertainty remains, though, if the Big Ten’s new testing procedures will allow for fall competition in all sports.
McCutcheon only lost three starters from a 27-6 team that lost to Stanford in the Final Four in Pittsburgh last December. All-Americans Stephanie Samedy and Regan Pittman return. The Gophers also welcomed in a loaded recruiting class ranked No. 1 nationally.
“Obviously, we’re hoping for a season,” McCutcheon said after fall sports were postponed in August. “That’s what everyone is saying we’re going to get.”