As Division I conferences have made moves toward a conference-only football season this fall, Division III programs like Whitworth face uncertainty of their own.
“The last month and a half, you’re running in sand,” Whitworth athletic director Tim Demant said Monday. “You’re trying to make contingency plans for everything.”
Whitworth has already lost its entire nonconference football schedule for 2020 due to fears of coronavirus spread. In June, the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference announced it would not play nonconference games this fall, eliminating two of Whitworth’s September games, against Occidental and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Additionally, Demant said the contest against Saint John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota – set to be the program’s first regular-season game outside the Pacific time zone since 2017 – will not happen.
With the Northwest Conference so reliant on the SCIAC for nonconference football games, Demant and other NWC athletic directors and presidents have explored other options for scheduling as they look hopefully toward playing sports in the fall.
“We would never risk their health and safety for the sake (of playing),” Demant said. “We believe sports is part of their educational experience. If we can’t provide that, we feel we’re doing them a disservice.”
Toward those ends, Demant said the conference is hoping to finalize a football schedule that will include two nonconference games against NWC opponents in addition to a full seven-game NWC slate. Those matchups are still to be determined, Demant said.
Three other fall sports teams – men’s and women’s soccer, plus volleyball – would travel together for conference games, Demant said. They would play the same team twice in the same weekend at the same venue.
More Division III programs are canceling or suspending fall sports. Claremont Mudd-Scripps announced July 1 five fall sports, including football, will not play. Pomona-Pitzer, also of the SCIAC, announced July 8 it won’t have students – and thus, no sports – on campus this fall at all.
On Friday, the New England Small College Athletic Conference announced its fall sports season is canceled. At least six other DIII conferences have made plans to limit play to within its conference, according to a list compiled by d3football.com.
Demant said it is becoming “less and less likely” there would be a DIII football playoff tournament, setting up a regionalized season.
He was not sure whether fans would be allowed to attend any potential games at Whitworth in the fall.
“We haven’t even talked about (fans) yet,” Demant said. “That would be dependent on where we are as a state and what the (health) protocols allow.”
Recognizing the potential for seasons to be canceled, shortened or suspended, the NCAA announced Thursday DIII athletes won’t be charged with participation for 2020-21 “if their team can complete only 50% or less of the sport’s maximum contest/dates” due to the impact of the pandemic.
As of now, Whitworth plans to have students on campus in the fall, preparing to play as many games as it can, and Demant said they have a COVID-19 testing plan in place for students as they return.
“We believe in the value of what we’re doing for the student-athlete education, so we’re gonna do everything we can within reasonable limits to have our athletes participate,” Demant said. “Our hope is that we will be able to play on some level.”
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