MOORHEAD, Minn. — Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference schedules for all sports will look different next school year after the NCAA Division II Presidents Council decided to reduce the minimum and maximum number of required contests for sports sponsorship.
The changes were announced Wednesday, May 20, and made for one year only due to the financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we look at the world today and the challenges higher education is facing, it makes sense,” said Minnesota State Moorhead athletic director Doug Peters. “It’s given a final decision to work with. Now that we know what the rules are so to speak, we can figure out our strategy.”
The reduction in minimum and maximum contests is for the 2020-21 school year. The next step for the NSIC, which has 16 members in five different states, is to develop new schedules for the upcoming school year in the coming weeks.
NSIC commissioner Erin Lind said Wednesday the process will likely take about a month to develop new schedules, with contingency plans in place due to the uncertainty attached to COVID-19. The league has assembled a COVID-19 schedule and championships review group with one representative from each of the 16 NSIC members.
“We will have some schedules, my hope is, within 30 (or so) days and then we have to be nimble,” Lind said. “I anticipate by late June, we will have a plan for our league, which may have to flex still. We may have to bend that plan. We will definitely have a plan.”
The maximum number of football games is 10, down from 11. The minimum number in seven, down from eight. A football team can choose to play five games, but wouldn’t be eligible for NCAA postseason play.
The one-year maximum for volleyball is 20, down from 26, with a minimum of 10, down from 15. The women's soccer maximum is 14, down from 18, with a minimum of seven, down from 10. The minimums and maximums don’t include potential conference or NCAA postseason play in each sport.
Peters said he’s in favor of playing the maximum number for each sport, provided that can be done safely.
“I think it’s the responsible thing to do, considering our environment,” Peters said of the scheduling reductions that also include winter and spring sports. “And with that, I’m a proponent of scheduling the maximum number of dates. … It makes sense to me to play the new maximum number of contests.”
Lind said there could be potential changes to conference postseason play for sports that have NSIC championship events, but she would like to keep those events in place if possible.
“Our championship experience is so much of what we provide to our student-athletes, I would think at this point that would be a last resort,” Lind said. “It’s something we will definitely have to talk about though.”
“The NSIC does an outstanding job in their postseason conference tournaments and it is a big part of the student-athlete experience and I’m hoping that we can keep them in place,” he said.
Lind said Division II conference commissioners have agreed that conference scheduling takes priority over nonconference contests to satisfy schedule reductions. Distance and geography are also factors to be considered.
Not all NSIC sports have nonconference play. Football, for example, has all conference games due to the size of the league. Lind said the goal would be to make schedule changes that keep parts of the current schedules in place, while satisfying the new requirements.
“We don’t want to disrupt every schedule we have,” Lind said. “This is a one-year adjustment so let’s not try to explode everything.”
Peters added: “I think we want to do it with as little disruption as we can and provide the best flow to a season that we can for our student-athletes.”
The California Collegiate Athletic Association recently announced it was suspending all fall sports. However, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that CCAA athletic administrators haven’t given up on playing fall sports during the next school year.
“I want to make this really clear: We’re not canceling fall sports,” Cal State San Marcos athletic director Jennifer Milo told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Our goal is to get in those sports during the 2020-21 academic year. If that means we’re playing all of our CCAA sports during the spring, we will. We understand that means we will have a unique approach and they may not be competing for an NCAA championship, but we’ll have CCAA championships.”
Lind said the NSIC has to consider all potential scenarios for the next academic year, even if that means moving fall sports into the spring.
“It’s a scenario that we need to be aware of, but it is an absolute last resort in my mind,” Peters said.