A MIAC football season running from March to early May. Practices in both the fall and spring. And the marquee St. John’s-St. Thomas matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium in late April.
Those are a few possibilities that could become reality now that the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference plans to move six fall sports, including football, to the spring of 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The MIAC officially announced the move Tuesday, with volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer and men’s and women’s cross-country joining football in not competing this fall. The NCAA Division III conference is working to develop spring schedules for those sports, which have been designated as medium- or high-risk for transmission of COVID-19 by the NCAA.
The MIAC said men’s and women’s golf and men’s and women’s tennis — designated as low-risk sports — can participate in conference-only competitions this fall.
MIAC Commissioner Dan McKane offered a mix of disappointment and anticipation with the announcement.
“Fall is a great time to play sports,” he said. “It is a very difficult decision. However, the exciting piece is we’re going to have an opportunity to do something we’ve never done before — have a competitive fall season in the spring.”
Whether those fall sports moving to spring will be competing for NCAA championships is to be determined, but McKane wasn’t optimistic.
“Most of the conversations I’m hearing is the NCAA likely will cancel fall championships and not likely reschedule to the spring,” McKane said. “That allows for the flexibility for every conference to determine where they can pick up this fall season and place it.”
Gary Fasching, coach of defending MIAC football co-champion St. John’s, was hopeful for a fall season and that the NCAA would hold a tournament in the spring, “so our kids have something to play for. We’ll adjust on the fly as soon as we hear,” he said.
Conference athletic directors and football coaches will meet with McKane over the next month to determine a spring schedule that could begin in late March. Options include a full eight-game conference schedule or a five-game schedule. The latter would enable players to retain a year of eligibility. An NCAA Division III blanket waiver approved in early July does not charge of year of eligibility if student-athletes appear in 50% or less of their team’s maximum number of contests.
Should there be no NCAA championship to play for, a shorter football season might become a more attractive option.
“That’s what our membership has to determine,” McKane said. “You also have to look at: We’re in Minnesota, it’s still winter late into March at times. Are our fields going to be ready?”
Both McKane and Fasching expect the St. John’s-St. Thomas game, which had been slated to be played Nov. 7 at U.S. Bank Stadium, will be played in the Vikings’ home this spring. It will be the last game between the Johnnies and Tommies as MIAC members, with St. Thomas moving to Division I and the FCS-level Pioneer Football League in the fall of 2021.
“We would like to play it, and I assume St. Thomas would like to play it,” Fasching said. “… It sounds like U.S. Bank Stadium has dates available in late April and early May.”
Added McKane: “As we look at how we structure our schedules, that would be one that we want to make sure is there.”
Division III football teams will have 114 days of practice between the fall and spring, and Fasching plans to use 35 to 40 in the fall.
“The most important thing is we have to make this fall meaningful for our student-athletes,” said Fasching, who plans to have at least two game-style scrimmages. “Being able to practice with them in the fall will certainly help.”
D-III hockey usually begins play in late October, and basketball follows shortly after. McKane expects the conference will decide on winter sports “by the end of August, if not sooner.”