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No football at MinnWest: 'A tough time'

The Minnesota West Bluejays
The Minnesota West Bluejays
Submitted photo

WORTHINGTON -- Veteran Minnesota West Community and Technical College football coach Jeff Linder was in Rapid City, S.D., on Monday when his 2020 football season was taken away. On Wednesday, he was trying his best to perform two functions: One, enjoying a summer vacation with his family, and two, attending to responsibilities associated with the news he hadn’t wanted to hear.

Late Monday afternoon, the Minnesota College Athletic Conference (MCAC) announced that 2020 fall football, volleyball and soccer seasons have been canceled for the conference’s 24 two-year colleges in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. College presidents cited continued coronavirus concerns as the impetus behind the move, noting that a decision had to be made with volleyball matches scheduled to begin on Aug. 18 and football games beginning just four days later.

Linder said he could hardly keep up with the texts and phone calls from parents and football players immediately following the announcement. He continues to do his best, he said, answering questions and helping student-athletes make the important decisions they must now make.

“When I get home, I’m going to spend quite a bit of time -- and that’s OK because it’s my job -- trying to find homes for some of these kids,” he said on Wednesday.

Many student-athletes will stay at Minnesota West for the 2020-21 school year, and Linder is happy for those who will. A good number of recruits are already talking about staying, he said, but a few of the sophomores are considering moving on. Four-year football schools are already reaching out to Linder, telling him that they’d be willing to take on some of his players.

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But there’s no denying the obvious -- a year without football at Minnesota West will be hard.

“It’s just a big disappointment. It’s a disappointment for the players, it’s a disappointment for the parents and the fans. It’s a tough time for them. It’s a tough time for all of us,” Linder said.

He said he understands the decision that the college presidents made. It couldn’t have been an easy one to decide.

“Sitting in those chairs, it’s really difficult for them. That’s why they’re sitting in those chairs,” Linder said. “They’re looking at things further out, they’re looking at more variables than I am. It’s not a decision they made quickly.”

Elsewhere in the MCAC, coaches reacted to Monday’s decision in predictable ways.

Ridgewater head volleyball coach Erica Smith said she and her peers were optimistic prior to the announcement. “We didn’t know how it would look but we were very positive it would be happening. … It was shocking, but I’m glad we do have a decision. The girls know what to expect and I know what to expect,” said Smith to the West Central Tribune.

“It’s disappointing, but mainly it’s disappointing and disheartening for our student-athletes and for our coaches,” Rochester Community and Technical College athletic director Mike Lester told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Sports personnel at two-year schools outside the MCAC took notice of Monday’s decision.

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“As far as our situation is concerned, sports are going on as planned,” said Bismarck State College AD Buster Gilliss. “Could that change tomorrow, or in a week or in a month? Sure it could. But we’re hoping to have sports in the fall and that’s what we’re planning for.”

Linder wonders if the MCAC announcement will affect fall sports in Minnesota’s high schools.

“I’m really concerned about the high schools. What’s the governor going to see in this? What’s the high school league going to see in this?” he said, adding, “The players that are coming out of high school, they kind of went through some of this in the spring. But not having their football season wasn’t a part of that.”

For Linder himself, it’s going to be a very different kind of autumn. In a typical season, he said he is “completely engaged” in football from about the third week of July until November.

“It’s really going to be odd for me,” he admitted. “It’s been 30-plus years that I haven't had football in my life.”

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